Last night the nation finally met Josh Mandel, the winner of the Republican senate primary in Ohio. Mandel is the Ohio state treasurer, but far more important for our sphere of interest, he’s the first non-incumbent Jewish candidate to join a Senate race. It’s a pretty good Jewish resume too. Holocaust survivor grandparents? Check. Jewish fraternity? Alpha Epsilon Pi. Plus, if elected he could provide some real nachas as the first Senator to serve in Iraq.
The party has been grooming him since his twenties, and he does look great on paper. He had three years as city councilman, two terms state representative, and then was elected to statewide office in 2010 as state treasurer, not to mention two tours in Iraq with the Marines—and he did it all before he was 34.
It’s a bit harder to say if that last part will be an advantage. He looks and talks like he’s 24 and a recent not entirely flattering Atlantic profile paints a vivid picture of “a precocious Bar Mitzvah boy, or perhaps a studio, slightly cocky frat boy” with little grasp the issues or anything beyond talking points. On the other hand, he’s eating cottage cheese in the interview so another notch on my Jewish checklist.
He’s got some external hurdles to overcome before he can become “the Jewish Marc Rubio.” The Midwest has the fastest dropping unemployment rates in the country, and nobody has any illusions that it’s linked to anything but the auto industry, which is linked to Obama, which will help down ticket. Meanwhile, the state’s Republican governor’s approval is in the negatives and Mandel’s opponent, Sen. Sherrod Brown, has seen his lackluster approval ratings improve lately. He’s leading Mandel in the polls.
On the other hand, despite running for statewide office before Mandel is basically an unknown to Ohio voters, so he’ll have room to grow. He’s also apparently a prodigious fundraiser with a $4 million war chest and he’ll have a lot of outside financial help: The Chamber of Commerce has already been running ads bashing Brown, and Foster Fries, the 71-year old billion who is Santorum’s prime backer, has sworn to pour money into the race.
If Mandel loses, there are only two other self-identifying Jews likely to challenge for seats, Republican Linda Lingle in Hawaii and Democrat Shelly Berkeley in Nevada. If they all lose, the retirements of Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl will cause a true crisis: A senate within only ten Jews, the lowest in decades and a minyan that, without someone on the bench, will be unable to daven if somebody gets a cold.