Josh Mandel is staking his bid for Senate in a wide-open Republican primary field on a Trump-aligned brand of cultural conservatism heavily focused on religion.
"The secular Left is waging a war right now on faith, and they're trying to water down the Judeo-Christian bedrock of America," Mandel told the Washington Examiner in an interview this week during a brief trip to Washington, D.C. "We should be doubling down and instilling belief in God in the classroom, in the workplace, and throughout society.”
Instead of building his campaign through traditional Republican Party groups, Mandel said, he is turning to churches, holding “Faith and Freedom town halls” and organizing through meetings with pastors.
“I believe we need a Judeo-Christian revolution in this country,” he said.
The 43-year-old father of three is far from the first Republican politician to try to harness the collective electoral power of Christian conservatives. The annual Road to Majority Conference run by the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization, is a staple for Republican presidential hopefuls and national conservative figures. Commitment to upholding religious liberty is a standard Republican stance.
But Mandel is not only giving a nod to religious conservatism. He's making it the cornerstone of his candidacy, setting him apart from others in the crowded primary who are also vying to capitalize on conservative enthusiasm that former President Donald Trump unleashed.
His website's homepage has bold letters cast over a picture of the former Marine in full gear: “FIGHT FOR FAITH & FREEDOM.” Scroll down, and it says ‘PRO-GOD. PRO-GUN. PRO-TRUMP.”
In one recent tweet, he declared that “the Bible and the Constitution are not supposed to be separate,” prompting a firestorm of criticism.
The Bible and the Constitution are not supposed to be separate.
— Josh Mandel (@JoshMandelOhio) July 2, 2021
“I talk a lot about fighting for good over evil, and I talk about a lot of evil that's going on in our country right now,” Mandel said. One of the evils he sees is the “indoctrination of our kids in the schools,” favoring the idealistic Martin Luther King Jr. colorblind vision rather than the 1619 Project focus on slavery’s effect on the country's founding.
His focus on religion in the campaign, he said, comes from being the grandson of Holocaust survivors. His grandfather survived multiple camps, and his grandmother was sheltered by Christian families.
“They instilled in me growing up that, in this life, I owe two debts to two very powerful forces,” Mandel said. “One debt is to the U.S. Military. But for brave men in places like Iwo Jima, Normandy, Omaha Beach, I wouldn't be here right now. … And then the second debt I owe is to courageous Christians. But for a network of courageous Christians during World War II, who hid and saved my grandmother, I wouldn't be here.”
This isn’t Mandel’s first rodeo in Ohio elections.
After eight years in the Marine Reserves as an intelligence specialist and two tours in Iraq, Mandel was a member of the Ohio State House for four years. Then he was treasurer of Ohio from 2011 to 2019, during which time his office launched an “Ohio Checkbook” website that put the state’s expenditures and revenues in an easy-to-understand format.
He was the Republican nominee to challenge Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2012, which he lost by 5 points. Mandel launched another Republican Senate bid in the 2018 cycle but dropped out of the race before the primary, citing his then-wife’s unspecified health issues.
Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s retirement has set up a wide-open and crowded Senate primary. Despite President Joe Biden’s preoccupation with the state, Trump’s 8-point margin of victory in the 2020 election has appeared to move the perpetual swing state into Republican territory. Most analysts believe Republicans have an edge there in the 2022 election.
That makes the 2022 election a prime chance for Mandel to make it to Congress after more than a decade in state politics. He boasts high name recognition in the state and a campaign war chest of over $5 million, mostly leftover from his previous runs.
An internal poll from early June showed Mandel with a sizable lead over the rest of the field, which includes former Ohio Republican Party Chairwoman Jane Timken; J.D. Vance, the bestselling author backed by tech billionaire Peter Thiel; and Cleveland investment banker Mike Gibbons. One shining moment for Mandel was when Trump, at a recent Ohio rally, took a “poll” of attendees’ opinions of the Senate candidates, and attendees cheered loudest for Mandel while Timken drew a few boos.
But in one early setback, the Columbus Dispatch reported last month that three fundraisers on his campaign quit in the spring. Sources said his finance director Rachel Wilson, whom Mandel started dating in August 2020, created a “toxic work environment.”
“Out of the many campaigns in this race for U.S. Senate, I am confident that we have the strongest team, top to bottom,” Mandel said when asked about the report. “I'm proud to have every single person on this team in the foxhole with me.”
Trump, and his pending endorsement of a Republican Senate candidate in the primary, looms large over the race. Vance’s entry into the race this month prompted Mandel to point out all of the author’s now-scrubbed criticisms of Trump.
Mandel doesn’t have similar Trump-opposition baggage and goes further than Vance in aligning himself with the former president. He asserts that the 2020 election was “stolen,” has called for a “Nov. 3 commission” to investigate the election, and traveled to Arizona’s Maricopa County election “audit” site last month.
Keeping with the reluctance among some Republicans to encourage all eligible people to take the coronavirus vaccine, Mandel declined to say whether he has gotten the shot himself.
“It's no one's business,” Mandel said. “It's a dangerous slippery slope when media, employers, or anyone starts asking private citizens about their personal health records.”
Washington Examiner Videos
Original Author: Emily Brooks