When Josh Mandel got a call from the Marines last year asking him to return voluntarily to Iraq, he had much more to contemplate than when he first enlisted in 2000. He had just been elected to the Ohio state legislature. Family considerations were also important to him. He ultimately decided to serve a second tour in Iraq “because I didn’t join the Marine Corps to say no when my country called,” Mr. Mandel explains.
Of all the factors he weighed, Mr. Mandel says political concerns were not among them. Now he has been forced to deal with the politics of that decision. The opponent in his tough re-election fight, trial attorney Bob Belovich, is attacking Mr. Mandel’s service, arguing that he abandoned voters. Mr. Belovich’s wife, Barbara, acknowledged in an interview for this column that she has told voters that Mr. Mandel “went AWOL” (a military term for desertion) by fighting in Iraq.
Even Mr. Mandel’s motives for serving in Iraq are being questioned. Mrs. Belovich claimed in an interview with this columnist that Mandel “put his personal ambitions ahead of his constituents.” Asked why anyone would enter a war zone out of “personal ambition,” Barbara Belovich replied curtly, “Certainly he wasn’t serving our needs.”
That’s not how one prominent local Democrat sees it. “I have great respect for what Josh did. To say that he didn’t serve his constituents by risking his life in Iraq is absurd,” says Broadview Heights mayor Sam Alai.
Considered a rising star by the Ohio GOP, Mr. Mandel wasn’t on anyone’s radar two years ago. In 2006, he was a long-shot candidate to win his Cleveland-area district, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by well over two-to-one. Democrats didn’t take him seriously, so they spent little money to retain the open seat. But after knocking on almost 20,000 doors, Mr. Mandel scored a stunning victory.
Mr. Mandel faces a much tougher race this time around. Ohio Democrats targeted him from the beginning, because at just 31 years old, he is seen as a top up-and-comer. Progressive Majority, a moveon.org-affiliated political action committee that focuses on local races, has made defeating Mr. Mandel a top priority. Then there’s the Obama effect. ACORN activists have blanketed the area, and every liberal group from moveon.org to the Obama campaign is working to maximize Democratic turnout.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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