Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Tim Ryan vowed Monday to fight for Ohio’s workers and put more money toward job training while opponent Morgan Harper accused the 10-term congressman of being too cozy with corporations during their only debate before the upcoming primary.

Unlike the nasty GOP primary contest, the Democrats who want to replace retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman kept their tempers in check ahead of the May 3 primary, the timing of which remains up in the air due to an ongoing redistricting battle playing out in the courts.

Democrats view Ohio’s open Senate seat as among their best chances to flip a seat nationally. The Republicans in the race will take the debate stage Monday night at Central State University.

Harper, a former consumer protection lawyer and community organizer, repeatedly pressed Ryan over his accepting big donations from the defense and fossil fuel industries — something she said she won’t do.

“To the workers: I stand on your side and I don’t need to take money from management to do that,” she said.

Ryan, who’s from the blue-collar Mahoning Valley, said Ohio has thousands of people working in the defense and energy industries and that he “will always go to bat for them.”

He said the government needs to increase vocational training for those don’t go to college while also providing relief for those saddled with student loans.

“How do we think we’re going to outcompete China and grow the middle class if we’re strapping people with these huge amounts of debt,” Ryan said.

Harper, a progressive running as a Washington outsider, backs tuition-free public college, universal child care and Medicare for all, saying she would pay for such programs by closing tax loopholes and making sure the wealthiest pay their fair share.

Traci Johnson, a longtime Columbus activist and public servant who is also seeking the party’s nomination, said she too supports expanding access to health care and mental health services.

By Julie Carr Smyth and Jon Seewer

Associated Press