Monday, July 2, 2012 at 5:42 PM
Ohio's U.S. Senate race became unexpectedly close this year even though it pits a relative upstart Republican against a popular Democratic veteran: Incumbent Senator Sherrod Brown, a '60s generation liberal with 36 years as an elected official, faces Josh Mandel, a 34-year Republican with barely eight years elective experience. Throughout the summer we'll be reporting on the blow-by-blow of the two campaigns, the ad wars, polls and more…but today and next week we step back to hear …from the candidates on how they got to be where they are now. Ideastream's Bill Rice starts with Mandel - "the man who would be Senator."
Republican Josh Mandel’s rapid rise in Ohio politics began by winning two offices in Democratic strongholds. He won a city council seat in Lyndhurst, a Cleveland suburb; then a seat in the Ohio House of Representatives, and from there vaulted into the State Treasurer’s office where he has now served a year and a half.
Mandel’s roots in Cleveland and its Jewish community are deep. He’s the son of a prominent attorney with a wife who’s family is connected to the real estate firm, Forest City Enterprises.
When speaking of family influence, Mandel readily speaks his grandparents.
MANDEL: “My grandparents on my mother’s side, they came over from Italy after WWII. One of them was liberated by Allied troops, and the other was actually saved by very courageous Christian families there in Italy. They came over and came to Cleveland and didn’t have two pennies to run together but one of them got a job at a brass factory, Central Brass factory here in Cleveland, he was a union worker there, and my grandmother Fernanda, she worked at Gray Drugstore. My other grandfather, from here in the Cleveland area, served in the U.S. Army Air Corp. And they really inspired me growing up to want to serve my community and my country.”
Mandel won election as President of the student body at Ohio State University in 1998 when he was a sophomore. After college, he headed off to the Marines Corp Reserves. Over the next seven years he would complete two tours of duty in Iraq, becoming Intelligence chief for his battalion. He would also graduate from law school, win a city council race in Lyndhurst, and get himself elected to the Ohio House.
While his political duties were put on hold while he was deployed, he picked them right back up upon returning.
RICE: “What did you take away from the Marines that you apply to your political career?”
MANDEL: “Backbone. Integrity. You know, in the Marine Corp we define integrity in different ways, but one of the guys that I looked up to in the Marine Corp defined it as doing the right thing when no one is looking. And I think we could use some more of that in political public service in general and definitely in Washington.”
Among his political accomplishments, Mandel points to a property tax reduction he says he engineered while a city councilman. As a state rep, he was primary sponsor of a bill that forced the state’s pension funds to partially disinvest in companies doing business with Iran and Sudan, which he considered sponsors of terrorism.
Next stop for Mandel was to become State Treasurer after ousting the Democrat incumbent in 2010; Mandel decried Kevin Boyce for hiring friends and cronies…something Democrats now accuse Mandel of doing since taking over as Treasurer.
Just two months after taking that office some began pushing Mandel to aim higher. This is the way he was introduced at a Cuyahoga County Republican gathering early last year.
MANDEL INTRO: “Ohio will once again serve as a critical swing state in 2012. We need a courageous leader running for Senate to boost our chances in the presidential election. Josh Mandel is the one to do it. Run Josh Run! (applause) Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Josh Mandel, Treasurer.” (applause)
Once Mandel did decide to run against incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown, the money flowed in - from both Ohio republicans AND national supporters. Today, Mandel’s fundraising is on a par with Brown’s. He’s cheered on by the Tea Party, catering to that group’s small government, anti-tax philosophy. He’s seen as a credible and viable candidate by Washington-based conservative groups like American Crossroads and Club for Growth, which are raising funds for him and other like-minded candidates in several states. Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller says his group endorsed Mandel early on, despite Brown’s significant lead in polls.
KELLER: “We don’t need to have our candidates be ahead when we endorse them. In fact, we rarely endorse candidates who are ahead. We just have to see a plausible pathway to victory. We saw that with Josh. He’s got a compelling life story. He is U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, so he’s a veteran, he’s a conservative, and he’s a great contrast to Sherrod Brown, who has spent his whole life in politics voting for the extreme liberal Obama agenda.”
On record Mandel opposes abortion and gay rights, but when we asked about them says little, except that he’s a proud conservative and has always held those positions. On foreign affairs, he accuses Brown and President Obama of being weak in their support of Israel in the face of what he calls “Palestinian aggression."Mandel doesn’t see that conflict coming to a peaceful solution. And he takes a dim view of the President’s foreign policy generally.
MANDEL: “Probably one of the best examples, look at Canada. Canada came to the United States and said ‘Listen, we want to built this XL pipeline and we want it to go through the United States.’ Thirty thousand shovel-ready jobs for blue collar men and women here in the United States of America and the message the President of the United States sends to Canada is not only are we gonna reject these tens of thousands of shovel-ready jobs, but we would rather you partner with China than us. And I just think they’re treating our friends like garbage and our enemies like friends.”
Mandel is most comfortable talking about the economy. Here he is earlier this month at a rally for republican presidential contender Mitt Romney. On the stump, Mandel, as challengers are want to do, frames himself as an outsider.
MANDEL: “I believe we need a new generation of leaders in Washington. Folks who look a little different, sound a little different, feel a little different, and Stand up to lobbyists, stand up to the media elite, to do what’s right for our country.” (cheers, applause)
That projection of the tough ex-Marine ready to take on the power juggernaut of either party is a steady theme of Mandel’s campaign.
MANDEL: Those guys in Washington aren’t gonna push me around. You know the day that some Republican boss who’s been there for 40 years puts his hand on my shoulder and says ‘Listen son, you better vote for this legislation or else we’re gonna kick you off your committee’ or someone from the media says ‘Hey kid, you better vote for this or we’re gonna blast you in the media’ or some lobbyist says ‘Hey son, you better vote for this or we’re gonna shut off your fundraising,’ you know I’ll look any of them squarely in the eye and tell them that I don’t work for them. My boss is 11.5 million people in the state of Ohio and I’ve been through tougher stuff than this.”
This is Mandel’s version of his rise and what he’s about. In our next report next week, we’ll hear Sherrod Brown’s story…in HIS own words.
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that Mandel is a former state senator. He is a former state representative
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