Living and working inside the Washington beltway affords me the opportunity to meet a broad mix of interesting people. A few weeks ago I was invited to attend a meet-and-greet for Josh Mandel, a Republican hopeful for the Ohio Senate seat. To my pleasant surprise, the event was not another run-of-the-mill DC fundraiser, but rather an opportunity for Mandel, a Jewish Republican, to meet some of the more active Jewish Republicans in the DC area.
When I first met Josh, I thought I was looking at a Congressional Intern, as he is 33 years old and looks considerably younger. However, Josh’s youthful faÃ§ade belies an incredibly compelling and a surprisingly expansive professional and personal story, one that is deeply rooted in his Jewish identity and his passion to serve his state and his country.
In Josh’s subsequent phone interview with The Algemeiner we discussed his motivation for his US Senate bid, his experience as a Jewish combat veteran, and why he would be a better Senator than the incumbent, Sherrod Brown, among other issues.
Josh’s grandparents were Holocaust survivors, who lost most of their loved ones at the hands of the Nazis. On the other side of his family, his grandfather was born and raised in America and instilled a respect for military service in Josh. In addition, his grandmother and her three siblings were hidden in Torino, Italy during the Holocaust by a Christian family. This is, in part, why Josh believes the pro-Israel population should actively welcome the Christian community’s robust support.
His family history inspired him to enlist in the Marine Corps where he served two tours of duty in Iraq. When President Bush announced the Surge campaign in 2007, Josh volunteered to return to Iraq, hoping to help rescue Operation Iraqi Freedom from possible failure. His unit was sent to the Iraqi/Syrian border where they worked to stop the flow of Syrian troops and arms into Iraq. To say Josh Mandel is aware of the security and cultural environment in the Middle East would be a vast understatement. In fact, he and his wife were married in Jerusalem under the cross-swords of US Marines.
Throughout our discussion, Josh continually stressed his lifelong commitment to serve the people of his home state of Ohio and how proud he is of his Midwestern roots. His commitment to service is reflected not only in his military service but also through his elected positions in Ohio state government. At 33 years old Josh has already held the positions of City Councilman, State Legislature and State Treasurer.
We also discussed the nature of the Jewish voter in the United States. It is clear Josh feels his Democratic opponent is not a strong friend of Israel and does not deserve the support of voters who care about this issue. He referenced the backing Sherrod Brown has given to J-Street, even after most members of Congress began to distance themselves from the controversial organization. In fact, if one were to visit the J-Street website, one would see a formal endorsement of Senator Brown. For those not familiar with J Street, it is an organization dedicated to changing the US/Israel relationship to make it more “balanced” and less pro-Israel.
I found myself encouraged listening to Josh, and I saw perhaps a glimmer of hope. Josh Mandel is no long shot. He has already raised more money than the incumbent Senator and is now being exposed to the entire state of Ohio and the broader Republican world. His fundraising efforts will only improve and his current 10+ point deficit will likely shrink fast. However, it is a long way until November 2012 and Josh will need all the support he can muster to knock off a Senator who is well known throughout the state. Nevertheless, with an anti-incumbent mood permeating the nation, Josh may very well pull it off.