Most of my non-Jewish Republican friends are baffled by the fact that Jews would even think of voting for Democrats. They tell me that Jews have all the essential characteristics of Republicans – strong family values, religious beliefs, and a commitment to education. Unfortunately, I’ve spent the better part of the last 25 years providing explanations and excuses, one of which is that there typically have been few Jewish Republican candidates with whom to identify. That is changing dramatically, and the person creating this new wave is Josh Mandel from Ohio.
Josh isn’t the new face just because of his tender age – he’s 34 years old – but because he’s part of a young group of Jews who have always been Republicans. He embraced Republican ideals when he started getting involved in politics during his college years; and, once he got a taste for it, he dove in fully – becoming President of the student body at Ohio State, the largest university in America.
It didn’t take Josh long to get into the state politics, but not before joining the U.S. Marine Corps. In 2003, at the age of 26, he was elected to the city council of Lyndhurst, Ohio, after which he served in his first tour of Iraq. He was so successful as a City Councilman that he moved to the State Assembly in 2006, which didn’t stop him from returning for a second tour of Iraq in 2007. When Josh ran for reelection in 2008, his opponent attempted to criticize him for “absenteeism” while serving his country. That didn’t go over well, and Mandel won the race handily. Finally, at the age of 33, he became the State Treasurer of Ohio; it was his first statewide campaign and he was the state’s highest vote-getter.
When I spoke to Josh, I asked him why he chose to be a Republican – a question still asked of Jews because of the reflexive perception that Jews are Democrats. He replied by emphasizing the principles that draw thoughtful Jews to the Republican Party – national security and belief in a free market. These remain the two issues that he continues to stress – his only gripe being that some Republicans don’t embrace these ideals more clearly.
When talking about his experience as State Treasurer, he describes how surprised he was to discover how inefficiently the State occasionally operated. He loves to tell the story that prior to his election, someone in the Treasurer’s office would drive for 2½ hours every week up Interstate 71 to Cleveland just to deposit checks. Mandel stopped that process and did it electronically. Under his administration, Ohio’s $4 billion investment fund (managed for school districts and local governments) credit rating has been restored to AAA – just as 14 other states investment funds were being downgraded.
Mandel has now taken on his biggest political challenge – unseating incumbent U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown. There may be no bigger race for a U.S. Senate seat – because Ohio will also be a bloody battleground between the presidential candidates. And don’t be surprised if Mandel helps drag the Republican nominee over the finish line. Josh is a legendary campaigner, having outworked his opponents in every corner of the state.
Mandel often points out the stark contrasts between himself and Brown, who has the most liberal voting record in the Senate. (That says a lot compared with the likes of Barbara Boxer, Patty Murray, and Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed Socialist.) Mandel believes that “the country is being driven off a cliff at 100 MPH” and that Brown is sitting in the driver’s seat – on Barack Obama’s lap! Every day, Mandel hammers away at Brown for his support of ObamaCare and his lunatic-fringe environmentalism. He often reminds Ohioans that the state contains over a hundred years of coal and shale oil, and that Brown is doing everything he can to stop its development and prevent residents from getting good, high-paying jobs. On top of this, Ohioans voted 2-1 against the individual mandate included in ObamaCare– again pitting Brown against his constituents.
This won’t be an easy campaign, but Mandel is ready. In less than twelve months, he has raised almost as much money as Brown has collected – chiefly from his union buddies – in the past six years. Even though Josh comes from Cuyahoga County (Cleveland area), where Democrats usually win big, he has outpaced his opponents by as much as two-to-one. He feels that his Jewish background and his name recognition in the county will help negate the strength Brown might expect in this Democratic stronghold.
Mandel will be the first Republican Jew in the Senate since Norm Coleman of Minnesota. But he’ll also be the first face of the new generation, like Allen West and Tim Scott who were elected to the Congress as Black Republicans. The Democrats are losing their grip on the Jewish vote and Mandel will be the proof of that in 2012.