Will Josh Mandel ever stop running?

In third run for the Senate, times have changed for the aggressive conservative

Republican yard signs are seen near an early voting site in Medina County, Ohio, in October 2012. The Romney-Ryan ticket and Senate candidate Josh Mandel both lost in Ohio the following month.  (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Republican yard signs are seen near an early voting site in Medina County, Ohio, in October 2012. The Romney-Ryan ticket and Senate candidate Josh Mandel both lost in Ohio the following month. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted February 24, 2021 at 5:30am

ANALYSIS — Josh Mandel is running for the Senate in Ohio. Again. Surprise, surprise.

Mandel, who turned 43 in August, has the perfect political résumé. It’s so perfect that you might think he planned it even before he reached his teens.

While at Ohio State University, Mandel spent two years as undergraduate student president. After graduation, he earned a law degree from Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

Mandel then enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve, where he served eight years as an intelligence specialist, including time in Iraq.

In 2003, Mandel, then in his mid-20s, was elected to the city council in Lyndhurst, a small city in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. According to reporter Nathan Guttman in a must-read 2017 piece in The Forward, Mandel was known for “his retail politicking and pleasing personality.” (The piece was reprinted on Cleveland.com.)

In 2006, Mandel, a conservative Republican, was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives. He was reelected two years later. Wasting no time continuing his climb up the political ladder, he entered the race for Ohio treasurer in 2009, winning the office the next year.

Less than a year and a half later, Mandel, now 35, entered the race for U.S. Senate, winning the 2012 GOP nomination comfortably.

I interviewed Mandel in April 2012 and wrote a piece the following month in which I said some nice things about him, including: “I was impressed that he showed up alone, without a retinue of handlers to protect him. He was poised and smart. He was never rattled (even though I tried). He answered questions willingly, unlike some candidates who are overly defensive or act as if reporters are enemy combatants (admittedly some are).”

Josh Mandel is interviewed at CQ Roll Call in Washington in April 2012. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)

But I also noted I was surprised how conservative Mandel was and how young he looked. Initially, I made him a narrow underdog in a competitive race. Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown ended up winning the general election by 6 points, 51 percent to 45 percent — about double President Barack Obama’s margin over Mitt Romney in the Buckeye State that year.

In 2014, Mandel ran for reelection as treasurer, winning comfortably. Two years later, in December 2016, he entered the 2018 Senate race, once again looking to challenge Brown.

But in January 2018, Mandel pulled out of the race unexpectedly, saying in an email to supporters, “We recently learned that my wife has a health issue that will require my time, attention and presence. In other words, I need to be there.”

Two years later, Mandel and his wife, “a member of one of Cleveland’s wealthiest families,” divorced, the records sealed by a judge in Ashland County, where neither Mandel nor his wife lived, Cleveland.com reported.

Fast forward to 2021. Josh Mandel is running for the Senate, this time for the open seat of retiring Republican Rob Portman.

Mandel’s initial fundraising e-mail confirmed that he remains an aggressive conservative. The email calls him “President Trump’s #1 ally in Ohio” and promises that “he’s fighting RINO’s and establishment politicians.” It notes that he is fighting “AGAINST the radical Left’s attempts to destroy our nation.”

But Mandel won’t have the GOP nomination handed to him on a silver platter. And he won’t be the only anti-socialist Trump acolyte in the race.

Former state party chair Jane Timken, the wife of the former president and CEO of Timken Steel, is also running. State and local Republican activists know her well, and she has the deepest of pockets.

With the backing of Donald Trump in January 2017, Timken ousted the previous Ohio GOP chair, an ally of former Gov. John Kasich — a fact she notes in her announcement video. Timken holds an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a law degree from American University.

Although she has never run for office, Timken, 55, received glowing tributes from longtime Trump allies and advisers Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro when she announced her Senate candidacy.

Both Mandel and Timken portray themselves as outsiders, disruptors, and close Trump allies. But Mandel has been running for elective office since he was in college, while Timken has been a lawyer and a grassroots party activist — and Trump weighed in directly on her behalf in the race for state party chair in 2017.

Mandel’s political ambition clearly has not cooled. But his 2012 loss and aborted 2018 Senate race, combined with Timken’s entry into the contest, pose problems for him in 2022.

No matter what happens in the GOP race, the candidacies and rhetoric of Mandel and Timken show just how far the Ohio Republican Party has shifted over the last half-dozen years from the days of Sen. George V. Voinovich, Gov. Jim Rhodes, Kasich, current Gov. Mike DeWine and even Portman. Today, it’s the party of Rep. Jim Jordan, Mandel, Timken — and Trump.