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Josh Mandel Hinges Senate Campaign On Lingering Trump Support

Josh Mandel speaks at the Ohio Republican Party election night celebration in Columbus, Ohio on Nov. 4, 2014.
Tony Dejak
Josh Mandel speaks at the Ohio Republican Party election night celebration in Columbus, Ohio on Nov. 4, 2014.

Republicans have their first official candidate for the 2022 U.S. Senate race. Former state treasurer Josh Mandel is launching his third try at that office, and says it was former President Trump’s impeachment that put him in the race for Sen. Rob Portman's seat.

Mandel, 43, has been out of office since 2018, when he couldn’t run again after two terms as state treasurer.

His bitter but unsuccessful campaign against Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in 2012 was one of the most expensive in state history. Four years later, Mandel praised Trump at the meeting of Ohio’s Electoral College in December 2016, just after launching his second Senate campaign in a video full of Trump-type themes.

Mandel abruptly scrapped that second campaign against Brown in 2018, citing the serious illness of his wife. It would have been only the second rematch for two Senate candidates in Ohio history.

Three years later, Mandel is still sounding the Trump call.

“I was the first statewide official to support President Trump in Ohio. I'm President Trump's number one ally in Ohio," Mandel said.

Trump was actually Mandel’s second choice for president in 2016: – he’d initially campaigned for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who dropped out not long after the Ohio primary. That was the only primary won by then-Gov. John Kasich, who most of Ohio’s elected officials were campaigning for – except Mandel.

As he enters the 2022 Senate race, and after Trump won Ohio by an 8-point margin for a second time, Mandel says he remains loyal.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook with conservative activists and Trump activists encouraging me to run," Mandel said. "And I'm confident with that support we're going to win this primary and then we're going to go beat Amy Acton in the general election."

Mandel went on to talk specifically about Acton, who’d been a popular director of the Ohio Department of Health – and the first woman to serve in that position – but quit after threats from opponents of the state’s COVID policies. Acton hasn’t announced she’s running for the Democratic nomination for Senate, but left her job at the Columbus Foundation to consider it.

“And let me say something: Amy Acton, what she did in shutting down the state, he should be ashamed of herself, completely ashamed of herself," Mandel said.

Mandel's comments echo criticism from some conservative state lawmakers, who have complained that shutdowns have hurt Ohio's economy.

Mandel doesn’t say much about the woman he’s likely to run against, Jane Timken, in the Republican primary. Timken, also a Trump ally, resigned as Ohio Republican Party chair last week.

Timken said she would announce her plans soon, but that she’ll advance what she calls “conservative, America First policies to strengthen Ohio."

But Mandel does talk about Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, the only Ohio Republican to vote for Trump’s impeachment in the U.S. House.

“He is a fake Republican. He was one of the 10 Republicans that voted for the impeachment of President Trump. And I think we need to get people like him out of the Republican Party and out of elected office," Mandel said. "And I'm going to be doing everything I can to support candidates who are going to go out there and beat Anthony Gonzales.”

Mandel said he would have voted with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and others who objected to the certification of President Biden’s win on the day of the Capitol insurrection January 6. Mandel won’t say whether Trump won or lost, but does echo Trump's false claim that there was "a ton of election fraud."

There is no evidence of widespread election fraud, something that former Trump attorney general Bill Barr has said himself. Trump's legal team has lost nearly every court case they filed, and Trump's attempts to undermine the election are now at the center of the Senate impeachment trial.

Since his last campaign, Mandel has gotten divorced. He’s erased nearly all of his tweets, including controversial ones, saying that he’s concerned about what he calls Big Tech and cancel culture. And he also says he recovered from COVID-19 not long ago, and that he’ll eventually get the vaccine.

Portman announced last month he wouldn't run again in 2022. He had endorsed Mandel in what was looking to be a crowded primary for the 2018 U.S. Senate race. Mandel said he'll welcome any endorsement, but suggests he won't pursue it.

Former Rep. Jim Renacci has also expressed interest in running for U.S. Senate, as he did against Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2018 after Mandel dropped out. But Renacci is also is apparently considering launching a primary challenge against Gov. Mike DeWine in 2022.

On the Democratic side, along with Acton, Dayton mayor Nan Whaley is considered a leading contender, along with Youngstown-area Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio).