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.