Cleveland — Now that Ohio governor John Kasich is officially running for president, most Buckeye State elected officials have either endorsed him or opted to stay on the sidelines.
Not state treasurer Josh Mandel.
Back in May, while Kasich was still ostensibly deciding whether or not to get into the race, Mandel endorsed Florida senator Marco Rubio. And on Wednesday, as the GOP field converged on Cleveland one day before the first debate of the primaries, Mandel was by Rubio’s side, introducing the senator at an afternoon rally.
“Every few generations in this country, there’s someone that comes along that’s just different,” Mandel said, introducing Rubio to the packed room at TownHall bar here. “In the 1960s, the Democrats had John F. Kennedy. The 1980s, we had President Reagan. And the next guy to come around, I believe, who can inspire the nation, unite the party, and help inspire every single person in every walk of life to believe in America and believe in the American dream, is the next president of the United States, my friend, Marco Rubio.”
Mandel’s decision to endorse Rubio while Kasich was still considering a bid raised some eyebrows among Ohio Republicans.
“He’s been going against the governor awhile. I don’t know, Josh has to do what he thinks is right. It surprised me, but it is what it is,” Representative Steve Stivers, who endorsed Kasich immediately upon his announcement, said recently. “We all have to back who we think is right.”
When Mandel endorsed Rubio in May, Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges knocked Mandel as “a bit player,” telling Northeast Ohio Media outlets that “the smart political move” would have been to wait on Kasich’s decision.
#related#Mandel and Kasich have had political tiffs in the past. In 2013, when Kasich was working to implement Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion in Ohio, Mandel wrote a letter to state legislators opposing the plan. In response, Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols took a jab at Mandel, saying, “this is a complex issue, and we don’t fault people for not fully grasping it.” The two also clashed over the levels at which Kasich wanted to tax oil and gas companies.
On the other hand, Rubio was one of the first to endorse Mandel in his unsuccessful Senate bid in 2012, and many Ohio Republicans said they thought Mandel was merely returning the favor. Some state GOP operatives who spoke to NR said that Mandel chose to endorse Rubio before Kasich announced his campaign so as to avoid openly insulting the governor.
Still, it’s hard not to interpret Mandel’s endorsement of Rubio as a slight to Kasich. And with all eyes on Ohio, Mandel’s appearance at a rally in Cleveland for one of the governor’s rivals certainly sends a message.
— Alexis Levinson is a senior political reporter for National Review.