And the showdown in a Fox 8 News in Cleveland debate comes just three days after two of the leading contenders almost came to blows during a heated face-to-face encounter in the first debate between the Republican candidates.
Video of nearly physical confrontation on Friday night at a debate outside of Columbus between 2018 Ohio GOP Senate candidate Mike Gibbons, a Cleveland entrepreneur, real estate developer and investment banker, and former Ohio treasurer and former two-time Senate candidate Josh Mandel, quickly went viral.
The verbal fireworks ignited after Mandel accused Gibbons of "making millions" off stock in a Chinese company. Responding, Gibbons dismissively accused Mandel of not understanding how investments work.
"You’ve never been in the private sector in your entire life. You don’t know squat," Gibbons charged.
"Two tours in Iraq," Mandel shouted after rising from his seat and moving towards Gibbons. "Don’t tell me I haven’t worked!"
"Back off, buddy, or you’re going to end up — ," Gibbons responded. "You’re dealing with the wrong dude."
"No, you’re dealing with the wrong guy," Mandel countered. "You watch what happens."
The two candidates were physically separated by debate moderators, but not before an expletive was uttered by one of the candidates, although it’s not clear who said it. After the debate neither candidate would admit to using the inappropriate and offensive language.
The three other candidates on the stage at Friday night’s debate who will also be taking part in Monday night’s showdown are venture capitalist and best-selling author J.D. Vance; former Ohio GOP chair Jane Timken, whose husband is the former chairman, CEO and president of his family’s steel manufacturing corporation, and state Sen. Matt Dolan, a former county and state prosecutor whose family owns Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Guardians.
"Sit down. Come on," Vance said during the Gibbons-Mandel face-off. "This is ridiculous."
And Vance, who’s also a military veteran, later accused Mandel of being "disgraceful" for what he charged was using the Marine Corps as a "political football."
"What a joke," he argued.
But Mandel told the Cincinnati Enquirer on Saturday morning "I’m a Marine, and I’m a fighter, and I’ll never back down from a fight."
Asked if he would do it all over again, Mandel told the newspaper "of course."
Mandel spoke after he and Gibbons, Vance, Timken, and Dolan appeared at a pancake breakfast hosted by the Northeast Hamilton County Republican Club.
Gibbons joked at the event that "I brought in my old boxing coach and we went in a few rounds this morning." Neither candidate apologized for the debate confrontation.
In a statement after the debate, Gibbons charged that "Mandel is unhinged, unfit, and flailing - because he’s losing."
A Fox News poll conducted March 2-6 indicated Gibbons at 22% among like Republican primary voters, with Mandel at 20%, Vance at 11%, Timken at 9%, Dolan at 7%, and nearly a quarter of those surveyed undecided.
On Monday, hours before the second debate, 15 veterans backing Mandel wrote an open letter saying they were "disgusted beyond belief" with Gibbons comments.
"Gibbons owes Josh and all veterans and those currently in the service an apology" the wrote. And they charged that Gibbons was "implying that ‘WE’ who served our country honorably and faithfully, never earned our way working in the private sector. We all volunteered to serve our country away from our families, putting our lives in danger, so people like Mike Gibbons could make millions."
Gibbons on Monday issued a separate statement lamenting the death of four American service members in a plane crash in Norway over the weekend. Among those killed was Gunnery Sgt. James W. Speedy, of Cambridge, Ohio.
"This loss hits close to home for me and many Ohioans, and reminds us all just how valued and brave each and every member of our armed forces is," Gibbons wrote.
The Ohio Democratic Party, ahead of Monday's debate, was encouraging "every voter to watch this forum and see for themselves why these Republicans do not deserve to be in the United States Senate."
The GOP primary has become a race to showcase support for former President Donald Trump who remains the most popular and influential politician in the GOP as he plays a kingmaker’s role in the party’s 2022 primaries and repeatedly teases another White House run in 2024. All the major contenders, except for Dolan, have touted their Trump credentials in hopes of landing the supporter of the former president, who has yet to endorse in the race.