Jewish Senate Candidate Tests Trump’s Model In Ohio
“One of the beautiful things of President-elect Trump’s election is that he has brought people together across the political spectrum,” Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel declared after announcing his campaign for Ohio’s 2018 U.S. Senate seat. While Ohio GOP Senator Rob Portman tried avoiding the Republican Presidential nominee during his successful 2016 reelection bid, Mandel appears to be adopting the opposite strategy of embracing Trump and his rhetoric in the hopes that this too will propel him across the finish line.
“President-elect Trump hit the nail on the head when he said the system is rigged on behalf of the special interests and the lobbyists, and one of the main reasons I am running is to transfer the power from the politicians to the people,” Mandel told Jewish Insider. The 39-year-old Republican further borrowed Trump’s talking points by promising to “Drain the Swamp” in Washington in a video released on his website to announce his candidacy. The President-elect’s transition team asked Mandel to be a keynote speaker at its Cincinnati “Thank you” rally on December 1. A recent GOP poll has Mandel gaining a commanding 50 point lead over his Republican opponents, a sign that his use of Trump rhetoric may be paying dividends for now.
Mandel served eight years in the Marines before entering politics, including two tours in Anbar Province, Iraq. He married his wife Ilana in Jerusalem walking down the aisle under the swords of U.S. Marines stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. The Ohio Treasurer has strong ties to his Jewish faith and community. Mandel conducted this phone interview with Hebrew music for his children playing in the background. His website notes that his grandfather survived Auschwitz before coming to the United States.
The Senate candidate’s positions on social issues have attracted criticism from some corners, including from members of his own family. During the interview with Jewish Insider, Mandel voiced his support for overturning Roe vs. Wade, which legalized abortions nationwide. He also emphasized his support for the “Heartbeat Bill,” a controversial measure in Ohio that does not provide exceptions for rape or incest when banning abortions once a fetus’ heartbeat is detected. Sandy Theis, Executive Director of ProgressOhio, told Jewish Insider that Mandel’s uncompromising stance on abortion shows “he has no respect for women.” As a state legislator, he voted against the Equal Housing and Employment Act—Ohio House Bill 176—that prohibits discriminatory practices on the basis of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” In 2012, nine of Mandel’s relatives wrote an open letter in the Washington Post critiquing his stance on LGBT rights.
In contrast to his more controversial stances on social issues, Mandel’s attitudes towards Israel have been met with near universal acclaim from his Jewish supporters. Praising his anti-BDS work as Ohio Treasurer, Ida Haber, a Cleveland area supporter of the Republican candidate, called Mandel’s commitment to Israel “so refreshing.” Under Mandel’s leadership, Ohio has purchased $105 million in Israeli Bonds and demanded that the U.S. end financial support for the Palestinian Authority, a policy move both Republican and Democratic Administrations have opposed in the past. “He clearly has the Orthodox vote locked up given his stance on Israel,” Herb Weisberg, Professor of Political Science at Ohio State University, explained to Jewish Insider. “But, he is much more conservative than the Ohio Democratic Jewish community. So, I would not expect him to get a high vote among Ohio Jews.”
But many other active members of the Jewish community in Ohio do find Mandel’s policies quite appealing. “Josh has been very strong proponent of ensuring that people of faith — including religious minorities — that their right to practice their religion is not unnecessarily interfered with by the government,” Rabbi Yitz Frank, Agudath Israel’s Ohio Director, explained to Jewish Insider. “Josh has been very supportive of the concept of school choice… he believes that the best way to educate children is to make sure that their parents have the ability to send them to wherever best fits their needs including Jewish day school.”
Mandel’s view of religion also impacts his understanding of national security. Slamming the culture of alleged political correctness in Washington, Mandel argued that Americans need to be more honest about the threats the country faces. “When you look at who is blowing up trains in Spain and nightclubs in Moscow… time and time again it’s military aged Muslim men. It’s a very disturbing pattern,” he said. This is not the first time Mandel has invoked Islam on the campaign trail. During his 2010 race for Treasurer, Mandel came under pressure from Politifact and others for airing an ad that suggested his African American opponent, Kevin Boyce, was a practicing Muslim when in fact Boyce is Christian. Mandel quickly stopped airing the ad, and in the end won the statewide race.
After repeatedly gushing about Trump’s stances on immigration and terrorism, the Republican Senate candidate noted that he has “not seen any evidence” of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections — a stance in line with Trump’s. Meanwhile, Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham urged Congress last week to increase sanctions on Russia for meddling in the election. When pressed if there was even one policy issue on which Mandel differed with the President-elect, Mandel would not name a single disagreement.
Weisberg emphasized that Mandel’s embracing of the next Commander in Chief’s rhetoric could have mixed results. “If Trump is successful as President, Mandel is riding that tiger into the race. If Trump isn’t successful, Mandel is stuck with him,” he noted. Irrespective of Trump, Dale Butland, veteran Democratic strategist and former Ohio chief of staff to U.S. Senator John Glenn, cited Democrats strong performance in 1982 after Ronald Reagan’s 1980 victory. “If history is any guide, the first off-year election after a president wins, the other party typically makes great gains.” The question remains exactly how much historical precedent matters in the Trump era.