The Washington Post

The Rising: Josh Mandel, young powerhouse

Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel shows off the shoes he wore out campaigning in a speech at CPAC 2011

That’s why even at his young age, Josh Mandel is being talked about as a potential challenger to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) next year. It’s also why he’s the latest politician to be profiled in our serious “The Rising,” an occasional look at up-and-coming stars around the country.

Mandel crushed incumbent Treasurer Kevin Boyle (D) in November, his first state-wide race. He has a compelling back story: He says he was inspired to go into public service by his grandparents, both Holocaust survivors, and that his time in the Marines “really shaped me as a leader, the leadership traits and principles that are hammered into us.”

The young Republican was helped by ethical scandals surrounding the Democrat, and a great Republican year in the state.

“The truth is that they were kind of running against the perfect opponent in the perfect year,” said Democratic consultant Greg Hass. But Mandel was elected treasurer with a greater margin than any of the other state-wide executive candidates. He also managed to win a seat in the state legisture in 2006 in a northeastern district where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans two to one.

“The new candidates who want to run for the statehouse, that’s the comparison that helps you, whether they’re going work that hard, whether they can come that close to that type of candidacy,” said Rob Frost, chairman of the Cuyahoga County Republican Party. “With good reason there’s some speculation that Josh might be a good fit and a formidable candidate.”

Despite drubbing Democrats took in the Midwest last year, no major challenger has stepped up to take Brown, just ranked by National Journal as one of the most liberal members of the senate. Mandel is a name that comes up frequently, even as some consultants suggest he’s too young.

“A lot of people are calling and encouraging me to do it, but what I’m really focused on is running the Treasurer’s office here in Ohio,” Mandel told The Fix. “I’ve been very flattered by all the phone calls I’ve received. I’m not ruling it out.” He says that in all his races, people told him he was too young - and he went on to build a network of grassroots support that propelled him into the city council, the state legislature and the treasurer’s office.

Both Mandel and his supporters emphasize his cross-party appeal. He proudly notes that he won a seat in the state legislature in a district where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans two to one. He believes that “right now in our country, the citizens of our nation are becoming more independent, and I try to do everything I can to knock down partisan lines.”

Although he’s demonstrated his ability to appeal to independents and conservative Democrats, Mandel is in line with conservatives when it comes to policy. “He’s just great on the issues and has been right from the start,” said Jack Boyle, an Ohio tea party leader and chairman of the Ohio Prosperity Initiative. Of call the 2010 candidates, he said “Josh was sort of the most uncomplicated. He was already there on the issues.”

Mandel talks about politics in a way that sounds like a candidate for higher office. “A lot of the underlying principles of our country are being threatened,” he said. He says he sees fear of this threat among Ohiohans for “the first time in my lifetime.”

Mandel has stumbled a bit in his meteoric rise. He got some rare but intense negative press during the 2010 race after airing an ad that suggested his opponent was Muslim. The Toledo Blade threatened to take back its endorsement; the Columbus Dispatch said the ad’s reference to a mosque “seems to serve no purpose other than to play on some Americans’ post-9/11 fears of Middle Eastern people and religions.” His hometown paper endorsed the libertarian candidate instead.

“I made a mistake, and I learned from it and put it behind me,” says Mandel now. “I regret running the ad, and I’ve broken bread with my opponent and we’ve both put it behind us.”

Yet Mandel truly does not seem to have given much thought to the Senate race. He says his time “has been consumed by being a good husband and being a good treasurer.” Some observers think family life -- he got married in 2008 -- could keep him out this time around.

“If Josh went at it aggressively he’d be a very serious candidate in terms of the Republican nomination,” said Hass. He predicts that a Mandel run would be “more of a positioning race for the future.” It’s hard to get statewide name recognition in Ohio, because the state is split between eight different media markets. Even if he lost, a Senate run might give Mandel more prominence. But if he decides to pass this time around, he has plenty of time.

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.


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