By Debra Jasper
Columbus Enquirer Bureau
COLUMBUS - Republican Gov. Bob Taft and Democrat Tim Hagan will face off tonight in their first debate over who can best lead Ohio as governor.
The one-hour debate will start at 7 p.m. in Dayton and will air locally on WCET-TV (Channel 48) and the Ohio News Network on Time Warner Digital Cable (Channel 105).
The candidates are expected to raise many of the same issues in the debates that they have pushed on the campaign trail in the last few months.
Mr. Taft, 60, a native of Cincinnati, has criticized Mr. Hagan for his opposition to the death penalty and for his plan to expand gambling in Ohio to balance a state budget deficit next year that could be as high as $4 billion.
"He has a ploy, not a plan," Mr. Taft has said. He says Mr. Hagan would need an outrageous tax hike to fund all of his proposed programs.
On the campaign trail, Mr. Taft emphasizes that under his watch, the state has spent record amounts on primary and secondary education and now spends $2 million a day to build and improve school buildings. He also touts OhioReads, a program he started that now has 40,000 tutors for schoolchildren.
Mr. Hagan, 56, of Cleveland, has blasted Mr. Taft for Ohio's standing as 41st out of 50 states in the number of college graduates, 48th in the development of new businesses and 48th in aid to higher education. He often cites statistics that show Ohio's unemployment rate was 4.2 percent four years ago and is now 5.7 percent.
"He's had four years, and what has he done?" Mr. Hagan says in stump speeches. "What he's given us is higher tuition, higher property taxes and no help with the high cost of prescription drugs."
Mr. Hagan says if elected he will focus on issues that help workers instead of big corporations.
Political experts say the debate is especially critical for Mr. Hagan, who needs to win the debate to improve his name recognition. Mr. Hagan has raised just over $800,000 and has said he will have no money for television ads.
Mr. Taft, who has raised $9 million, has been on the air for weeks. Some polls show he has a double-digit lead over his opponent.
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