Why Ohio’s Josh Mandel Senate Candidacy Has National Consequences

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Josh Mandel and Senator Brown square-off in the race for Capitol Hill

“The only way we’re going to change Washington is by changing the people we send there,” said Republican Senate hopeful Josh Mandel at the City Club of Cleveland during the first debate against Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown. It’s the central theme of Mandel’s campaign, and something Ohioans have seen plastered across television ads and yard signs for months.

Yes, Washington would change by sending Mandel to Congress. But only in the way a nuclear disaster site would change by dropping another nuclear bomb.

The prospect of a Senator Mandel from the political delicatessen of Ohio makes his candidacy a national issue. And that’s because Ohio, you could argue, rules the world.

Stay with me.

You see, we have the unfortunate distinction of being the king of all swing states. This means people care about us once every four years, inundating our airwaves with an endless barrage of brain-damaging political ads. Our reward is determining the leader of the free world. We gave you Obama in 2008 and no Republican has won the White House without carrying our great state.

If Mandel somehow wins, it instantly gives him national credibility. Cable news networks will put him on TV, increasing his name recognition across the country. Party leaders will seek his endorsement, and he’ll be guaranteed a speaking role at the next Republican National Convention. And considering his opportunistic tendency to job-skip, there’s no telling when he’ll announce his candidacy for the presidency. He does, after all, meet the Constitutional age requirement of 35.

But, Josh Mandel has proven throughout the 2012 election cycle to be an objectively terrible candidate. His political background, job performance, and own words prove this to be true. And if he has so much as a respectable showing this election, he becomes a national problem our hyper-partisan society doesn’t need.

“Honor, Courage, and Commitment”

Mandel, a former Lyndhurst city councilman, currently serves as the Ohio State Treasurer. He won the seat in a rout after a highly controversial campaign against Democratic incumbent by Gubernatorial appointment, Kevin Boyce.

Mandel announced his intention to run in a May 2009 web video. In the video, Mandel highlights his military experience with the United States Marine Core, and the lifelong impact his service has had on him.

“The Marine Core instills you with a set of core values,” he narrates. “Honor, courage and commitment.” This is followed by the obligatory footage of the candidate in deep conversation with some of our nation’s heroes. Why honorable people allow themselves to be used so obviously as political puppets is the subject of another much-needed essay.

Indeed, Mandel has displayed courage. Nobody would argue that voluntarily serving two tours in Iraq is for the faint of heart. However, honor and commitment seem to be characteristics missing from the Senate-hopeful’s repertoire. If we are to use his military experience as a measure of his courage as he and his supporters insist, then surely using objective information, facts, and statements to judge his honor and commitment is fair game.

“Good Government Means Minding The Store”

Mandel, who also served four years in the Ohio House of Representatives, won the state treasury in 2010. He won despite igniting an anti-Muslim bias when his campaign ran an ad falsely suggesting that African-American Kevin Boyce is Muslim, followed by campaign mailing with similar themes. Honor?

“I believe the most important duty of the state treasurer is to be a watchdog of the people’s hard-earned dollars.”

His message of fiscal responsibility won out with Ohio voters, and he took office on January 10, 2011. Considering the passion displayed during the campaign to protect the people’s hard-earned dollars, you’d would think he’d be eager to get to work.

However, minutes from the State Board of Deposit show Mandel missed 14 consecutive meetings before attending his first on March 19 the following year. Although it’s common for the State Treasurer to send a designee to meetings, the Associated Press called Mandel’s absence “unique among modern-era treasurers.” The Brown campaign insists Mandel has been too busy campaigning for the Senate, a claim PolitiFact rates as “half true” on the grounds that there is not enough evidence that the office is not functioning properly despite evidence of his absence.

Still, Mandel held himself to a higher standard of commitment, leading to a scathing editorial from The Plain Dealer, advising Mandel to show up to his job before campaigning for the next.

“Mandel, who is running as if there’s no tomorrow against Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, needs to consider the maxim that good government is the best politics,” wrote the editorial board in March. “And at the state treasury, good government means minding the store.”

Considering Mandel’s predecessors Kevin Boyce and Richard Cordray attended 11 of 24 meetings and all but one respectively, it’s fair to say Mandel fell short.

A Cause Of Concern

Speaking of Boyce, Mandel criticized the now-former treasury secretary for his hiring practices, saying in October 2010 “Unlike the current officeholder, I will ensure that my staff is comprised of qualified financial professionals — rather than political cronies and friends — and that investment decisions are based on what is best for Ohioans.”

Unfortunately for Mandel and the voters, the Dayton Daily News reviewed Mandel’s hiring practices. “The review showed that Mandel put qualified, experienced staff members in some top positions, but also hired six campaign workers whose average age is 26 and assigned them duties ranging from debt management to policy-advising to community outreach.”

Michael Lord benefitted tremendously from the Mandel victory. As a legislative aid to the state representative, he earned $13.95 an hour. Following the campaign, Lord went from campaign manager to senior policy advisor, increasing his pay grade to a salary of $100,000. Quite the promotion, wouldn’t you say?

Sadly, Ohioans have become accustomed to Mandel’s blatant disregard for living up to his own standards. Even his approach to public office has become a cause of concern for voters.

Gut-Check Moment

On March 1, 2012, Mandel used the Akron Press Club to announce his run for the United States Senate. The announcement was as anti-climatic as a romantic comedy. Although Mandel was officially announcing his candidacy for the first time, he had already filed papers to run in the Republican primary the previous year. Less than a year after assuming the office of state treasurer, Mandel was off to the next race despite a pledge to fulfill his term.

“When I ultimately had my gut-check moment and looked myself in the mirror, I decided to myself that this could not be the first time in my life when I said no to answering the call,” he said according to the Akron Beacon Journal. That’s when he provided his obvious solution to end partisan politics that would prove ironic to objective voters across the state.

“In order to change Washington, we need to change the people we’re sending to Washington.”

That’s great. Except Mandel couldn’t be more of a partisan candidate.

Mandel may have been able to reach across the aisle as a state representative, but since entering the limelight he’s proven to be as bombastic and combative as partisan politicians come.

Pants On Fire

PolitiFact Ohio, the non-partisan fact-checking arm of The Plain Dealer, has given Mandel six “pants on fire” rulings out of 25 statements. Three were rated “false,” four “mostly false,” and four “half true.” That essentially means Mandel is lying or misrepresenting the facts 68 percent of the time he makes a political claim.

Plain Dealer political columnist, Henry J. Gomez, said Mandel has a “casual relationship with the truth” in an article examining Mandel’s repeated attack that Senator Brown is directly responsible for Ohio jobs moving to China. PolitiFact gave the claim its “pants on fire” ruling, but Mandel insists the fact-checkers have it wrong.

When asked to identify a single Ohio job lost to China because of Brown, Mandel gave a hard lined response. “If that’s the level of specificity you’re looking for, you’re the reporters — you go do the grunt work.” PolitiFact Ohio had already ruled that examples cited by the Mandel campaign were insufficient to back up his claim.

But that’s okay, because Mandel doesn’t think much of PolitiFact anyhow.

“In the minds of so many Clevelanders we talk to, The Plain Dealer’s PolitiFact project has zero credibility,” he said. “People we hear from — Democrats, Republicans and independents — feel The Plain Dealer’s PolitiFact project is completely biased, sensationalized and without credibility.”

So he continues, delivering a litany of blatant mistruths ranging from a claim that Brown encouraged violent Occupy Wall Street protesters and another saying Brown “gave huge bonuses to executives” as part of the 2009 stimulus. Both claims were ablaze with misinformation.

To think this was all before the candidates had even met on stage for a debate.

“Boggles My Mind”

Brown and Mandel squared off for their first of three debates at the City Club of Cleveland on October 15 in front of a raucous, partisan crowd. Mandel took the opportunity to clarify his position on the auto bailout, something Ohio reporters and voters have been rightly hounding him for.

“I would not have voted for that,” Mandel said of the bailout. “I am not a bailout senator; he is the bailout senator,” he added referring to Brown.

Brown said his opponent’s opposition “just boggles my mind,” and it should be equally perplexing to Mandel’s campaign staff. Forget for a moment 58 percent of Ohio voters (62 in Northeast Ohio where the debate was held) approve of the auto bailout. Disregard, if you can, the fact it saved hundreds of thousands of jobs in a state where more than 850,000 jobs are tied to the auto industry. Instead, turn your attention to two of the Buckeye state’s most respected Republicans in recent memory: former Senator George Voinovich and outgoing Congressman Steve LaTourette. Both supported the bailout.

Voinovich, who has held every desirable office in the state, even recently wrote an op-ed discussing how important the passage of the bailout was in 2008.

“The risk in doing nothing was too great,” wrote the Senator, who is the highest vote getter in a state that has produced eight presidents. “The Center for Automotive Research estimated that if just one automaker had failed, roughly 2.5 million U.S. jobs would have been lost as a result of the cascading impact on suppliers and related industries.”

Such a public and ardent disagreement with a fellow Republican who could undoubtedly rival Brutus Buckeye in a popularity contest is astounding to politicos and Ohioans alike. It’s as if he ran a football to the wrong end zone, spiked it, and proceeded to do the dougie.

“Sweet Milk Of Politics”

With such an objectively undesirable candidate, it’s a wonder Mr. Mandel has been able to make this a close race. The Senator had as much as a 17-point lead in May with some recent polls showing a 6-point lead. Brown and other’s point to outside interests, like Republican mastermind Karl Rove’s CrossRoads GPS Super PAC.

“The outside interests have spent $27.6 million in ads to distort Sherrod’s record because they are trying to buy a Senator who will do their bidding and they know Sherrod will never be that guy, but they seem to have found their man in Josh Mandel,” said Brown campaign spokeswoman, Sadie Weiner.

Still, why would increased exposure help an unlikable candidate? One would think it might simply make more people aware of just how unlikable the candidate is.

“For political unknowns, money is the mother’s sweet milk of politics,” says political science professor Joel Lieske at Cleveland State University.

But that doesn’t mean the candidate who spends the most money always wins, “especially if his or her message does not resonate with the voters.” The reason why increased exposure might help an undesirable candidate is because, as Lieske learned from a former Republican National Committee communications director, “truth is what people believe.”

Perhaps the fact that Mandel has yet to take a lead in the race speaks to the idea that any and all Mandel support is simply anti-Brown, anti-Democrat fervor. With an unprecedented amount of Citizens United-inspired money being injected into state elections, it’s impossible to look to history for answers.

One thing is clear: outside money has greatly impacted this contest between Senator Brown and Josh Mandel, ranked third most expensive in the country according to the Center for Responsive Politics. It has shown that money can take an opportunistic, inexperienced candidate who holds a grudge against the truth to the national spotlight of American politics.

Reflection

Republicans should be embarrassed. This is not a candidate worthy of the party’s historic standard-bearers, Presidents McKinley and Taft, or more recently Congressmen Voinovich and LaTourette. Not only does it reflect badly on the party, but the state as a whole.

Ohio is a state of diverse opinions, backgrounds and perspectives. Mandel’s compelling personal narrative as an Iraq War veteran and grandson of a Holocaust survivor is a reflection of that. But his divisive politics, insisting his opponent is un-American, have more in common with the politico turds that surround cable news roundtables than the majority of laborers, teachers, lawyers, bankers, doctors, nurses, technicians, engineers, etcetera that are proud to call themselves Ohioans.

The absolute last thing Ohio needs, and by extension the nation, is a politically relevant Josh Mandel.

About Joe Baur

Joe Baur is a freelance writer, filmmaker and satirist with a diverse array of interests including travel, adventure, craft beer, health, urban issues, culture and politics. He ranks his allegiances in the order of Cleveland, the state of Ohio and the Rust Belt, and enjoys a fried egg on a variety of meats. Joe has a B.A. in Mass Communication with a focus on production from Miami University. Follow him at joebaur.com and on Twitter @BaurJoe
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