Here's what Rob Portman and Ted Strickland clashed over at final U.S. Senate debate

Posted at 10:24 PM, Oct 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-20 22:24:49-04

CLEVELAND -- So far this year, Cleveland has beat out Cincinnati for the Republican National Convention, a spot in the World Series and, now, hosting a U.S. Senate debate between Republican incumbent Rob Portman and Democrat Ted Strickland.

Nonetheless, WCPO was there as the two Senate candidates took the stage Thursday night for their third and final debate. Strickland, the former governor of Ohio, has become the underdog in the race as Portman hangs on to a double-digit lead.

Here are the five biggest takeaways from the evening:

Candidates played nice

Remember the days when politicians used to shake hands with each other before a debate started?

Those days still exist, apparently, in the Senate sphere of the political world. In a refreshing move, Portman and Strickland both opened the debate by shaking hands. They referred to each other as "governor" or "senator" throughout the evening.

Not a peep of words like “nasty” from the candidates. No "puppet" or "choked," references, either.

The candidates were both more than happy to talk about how they would handle a variety of issues – from police brutality to the heroin crisis – instead of insulting one another.

Of course a few barbs were traded throughout the night.

"You must be desperate, governor," Portman said at one point in response to Strickland’s attacks on his record.

Strickland later teased back that Portman’s nose "seemed to be growing."

But overall the debate was clean, which was something we can all appreciate after sitting through three rounds of presidential debates.

Should Obamacare go or stay?

How the two candidates would handle the Affordable Health Care Act -- especially with President Barack Obama leaving office next year -- is clearly different.

Strickland admitted the bill has faults, but said he thinks it’s vastly improved the health care landscape for many Americans. He would keep it around if he took office.

"I celebrate the fact that more than 800,000 Ohioans have insurance coverage through Obamacare," Strickland said.

He enumerated the bill's good points: Requiring insurance companies to charge women and men the same amount as well as banning them from denying someone because of pre-existing conditions, for example.

"It’s one that we ought to fix -- improve -- but we ought to keep," Strickland said.

Portman said he believes the Affordable Health Care Act’s most redeeming quality is forcing insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions.

But that’s where his agreement with Strickland ended.

Portman said the cost of Obamacare has spiraled out of control and middle class families can’t pay for the high deductibles that come with the plan.

"We have to replace it with something that is patient-centered, that gets more competition in the system, that gives people more choices," Portman said.

Ground troops or no troops?

Another big difference: how the two would like to see the U.S. counter terrorism efforts and the rise of the Islamic State group in foreign countries.

Portman never explicitly said he would like to send ground troops overseas, but he implied several times that the U.S. needs a larger presence in foreign countries. He also said that the country isn’t gathering enough intelligence in countries such as Syria.

"America’s role in the world has been diminished under this president and with the support of my opponent," Portman said. "America has pulled back and, in many respects, China and Russia has taken our place."

Strickland, meanwhile, was candid about his strong opposition to sending any ground troops into foreign countries for combat. Instead, he favors the use of air strikes and partnering with allies in places like Syria.

"I’ll tell you one thing I will never support -- and that’s ground troops being re-introduced into that part of the world. We cannot solve every problem," Strickland said.

He added: "I think Americans are sick of war."

How to tackle the heroin crisis

Here’s something both candidates agreed on: the federal government needs to step in and give extra funding to help local communities combat the heroin epidemic.

"There’s certainly a role for the federal government," Strickland said. "People are dying needlessly, in part because we don’t have adequate treatment available for people who are seeking treatment."

Mostly, the two candidates bickered over who had the superior record on supporting addiction help initiatives in the past.

But Portman said the federal government needs to step in with emergency funding like it would with other medical crises.

"We spend emergency money on Ebola or the Zika virus,” Portman said. “This is an epidemic. it’s an emergency in my view.”

Who will get the friendliest co-worker award?

Portman peppered bipartisan talk throughout the debate Thursday night.

It’s an important strategy for Portman, who is counting on picking up crossover votes from Democrats to push him to the finish line. Portman’s team has been spotted handing out fliers at Hillary Clinton campaign events. In August, Portman’s campaign team started running an ad featuring Bill Clinton’s former drug czar.

So with almost every issue that came up, Portman talked about how he already has or would work well with others in Congress. He vowed, for example, to consider the next president’s U.S. Supreme Court picks – no matter who wins. He talked about working together on climate change. He touted his ability to pass a bill focusing on drug addiction recovery services with bipartisan support.

"Washington is a dysfunctional place these days," Portman said. "We need to figure out how to work together as Republicans and Democrats and solve big problems."

Strickland, however, questioned Portman’s commitment to bipartisan efforts. He called Portman out for not considering Obama’s Supreme Court pick. Strickland also chided Portman for being too lax -- and too in line with the National Rifle Association -- on gun regulations.

"When you hear independence and bipartisanship, remember this: He is the great pretender," Strickland countered.