Dayton, Ohio — The first Senate candidate Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) endorsed this year was Ohio’s state treasurer, Josh Mandel. On the day of his endorsement, Rubio explained to Fox News why he favored Mandel over his Democratic colleague, Senator Sherrod Brown. “We need . . . to tackle some of these issues like saving Medicare and Social Security,” he said. “We will not do that with the current bunch that is in charge right now. We will need to make some changes.”
A Senator Mandel would be quite the change. The 34-year-old, fresh-faced Republican is 25 years younger than the 59-year-old incumbent, who — as Mandel likes to remind voters — first ran for Ohio state representative in 1974, when Richard Nixon was president. The conservative Mandel also makes for a strong ideological contrast to Brown, whom National Journal ranked the fifth-most-liberal member of the Senate.
Mandel, profiled in these pages by John J. Miller (“Buckeye for Promotion,” December 19, 2011), is a rising star in the GOP. Raised in Beachwood, a suburb of Cleveland, he played quarterback for his high-school football team. He majored in communications at Ohio State University, where he served two terms as student-government president and enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve. He went on to receive a law degree from Case Western Reserve University.
During his eight years in the Reserve, Mandel served two tours in Iraq as an intelligence specialist. The experience gave him “a heightened sense of personal responsibility,” he tells National Review. For his appreciation of freedom, he credits his grandparents, one of whom was imprisoned in Auschwitz while another served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. Mandel also credits his law professor Arthur Austin, who “under the umbrella of teaching contracts, really advocated for the free-enterprise system” — and found a receptive pupil.
Mandel’s legislative career bears the marks of these influences. In 2003, he won a seat on the city council of Lyndhurst, Ohio, where he engineered the first property-tax cut in local history. In 2006, he won a seat in Ohio’s state legislature and caused a stir when he proposed a bill to divest the state’s pension funds from companies that did business with Iran. After winning reelection in 2008, he successfully ran for state treasurer in 2010. In that office, he cut over $1.2 million from the state budget. He is pro-life and pro–traditional marriage.
In the fickle suburbs of Cleveland and Cincinnati, however, ideological consistency counts for little. Instead, Mandel is emphasizing the economy — and his opponent’s fumbling attempts to revive it. From 2001 to 2011, the Buckeye State lost 345,600 jobs in manufacturing, pushing its unemployment rate to 10.6 percent in August 2009. In February, it stood at 7.6 percent, while Brown’s focus in Washington remained on liberal proposals, such as Obamacare and EPA greenhouse-gas regulations, that would do little if anything to create jobs.
Mandel thinks jobs are the key issue, and that’s evident in his campaign schedule. On this Monday morning, he takes a tour of Staub Manufacturing Solutions, a metal-fabrication shop in Dayton. In a gray warehouse populated by blue-polo-clad workers, owner Steve Staub shows Mandel his equipment — big machines with names such as the “Trumatic L 3060.” Under the dangling lights and stencil-letter signs, Mandel listens, with sympathetic nods of the head, as Staub recounts the obstacles his company has overcome. Manufacturing comes with large start-up costs; consider that the Trumatic L 3060 costs $850,000.
“It’s not an easy business anybody can jump into,” Staub says. In 2007, he had 34 employees, but in 2009, the recession shaved his work force to ten. Today, he employs 20 people, but he doesn’t consider the federal government’s policies responsible for his recovery. The feds need to “help us,” Staub argues, “not continually add regulations that are going to strangle us.” For instance, were he to have four 55-gallon drums of Windex on his grounds, he would be out of compliance with environmental regulations, according to which the cleaner is a toxic chemical.
In his first bid for the state legislature, Mandel earned a reputation for his sneaker-punishing work ethic. He knocked on 19,000 doors, raised $400,000, and won in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans by two to one. Even at this early-morning campaign stop, Mandel operates at full speed: shaking everybody’s hand, chatting briefly with a reporter from the Dayton Daily News and a camera crew from the local station WHIO-TV, and receiving an endorsement from the tea-party group FreedomWorks, all before jumping in his Jeep for the next event.