“Josh?” I said, thinking aloud, as I settled into my seat aboard my plane from Atlanta, Ga. to Tampa, Fla. to cover the 2012 Republican National Convention.
The tall, lanky, dirty-blonde haired man turned around. Yep. That was definitely Josh Mandel, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Ohio.
“Hey!” he said back and sat down in the empty seat next to me.
Mandel, 35, is a major cog in the GOP’s plan to take back the U.S. Senate this election cycle. The controversial Ohio State Treasurer is running against first-term incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown, a liberal who votes with the Democratic Party 95 percent of the time. The tight race could ultimately determine whether the GOP wins control of the Senate and is therefore able to accomplish key parts of its agenda or Congress is locked in a stalemate for another two years until the 2014 Midterm elections.
The Young Republican’s claims to fame are both his incredible fundraising ability and the impressive number of doors he knocked on as a candidate for state representative in 2006. He was elected state Treasurer in 2010. Prior to running for office, Mandel served in the Marine Corps, completing two tours in Iraq.
As a Young Republican, Mandel has enjoyed substantial support from the Young Republican National Federation (YRNF). Earlier this month 140 young volunteers deployed to Ohio to campaign for Mandel and the rest of the GOP ticket. According to the YRNF, those volunteers made approximately 36,000 voter contacts. This weekend, they are coming back for a second round of GOTV.
“You know, I’m 35 but I look like I’m 19. We see that youth and energy as a strength,” Mandel told The Weekly Standard.
We had only met once before, when I was covering the GOP primary in Ohio last winter, but Mandel still remembered me on the plane.
The first time we met he had just finished speaking at a Lincoln Day dinner I was covering in Bowling Green. We exchanged a few words afterward about what an inspiration he was to young Republicans across the country looking to run for office.
It was an awkward exchange to say the least. At the time Mandel described his “baby face” as the biggest obstacle he’d had to overcome as a young candidate. His advice to young people seeking office was simply to “knock on lots of doors.”
By the time I ran into Josh a second time on the plane, nearly six months later, his baby face still hadn’t changed, but his political acumen had drastically. As he sat down next to me he poured out praise of what Red Alert had accomplished in such a short time, and he chatted with me casually as if we were old friends. Mandel told the flight attendant helping him that she could give away his upgraded seat in first class — he’d sit next to me instead.
I was surprised the Senate candidate offered to sit next to me – a reporter – unaccompanied for an entire flight. Mandel has had several run ins with the media and some reporters would argue that such behavior shows he still isn’t ready to be a U.S. Senator. PolitiFact, an arm of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, has been especially hard on the young politician, going out of its way to slam him at every opportunity — even if it means ignoring the facts.
Even though I am what Republicans would define as a ‘friendly’ reporter, I had spoken ill of my previous encounter with Mandel, and he immediately made it clear he was aware of my comments. It shows a lot of confidence in your campaign and your ability to win to offer to sit next to a reporter you’re not sure likes you for an entire plane ride.
Unfortunately, the plane was booked solid because of the exodus to Tampa for the weeklong fete and the man whose seat he was occupying returned a few minutes later, forcing Mandel and I to separate. But like a true gentlemen (or a truly smart politician), when the plane landed Mandel and the aide accompanying him waited for me outside of first class.
Right there in the middle of the Tampa airport Mandel sat down with me and gave me a fifteen-minute one-on-one to make up for the previous interview in Bowling Green I’d openly said he bombed.
With only four days left to go Mandel is down by an average of five and a half points according to Real Clear Politics. However a source close to the campaign told me the race is much closer than what’s been reported.
If it’s that’s really the case and Mandel wins, he will be the youngest person to serve in the U.S. Senate in nearly three decades. His election could encourage more young people to seek higher office – something most Americans would agree is important to our nation’s democracy.
And while Mandel may not be “ready” to be a U.S. Senator because of his boyish hubris, Brown hasn’t proven he is worthy of the office either – and he’s had six years to do it in. Do the people of Ohio really want to be represented by a man who thinks that people who want to stop unions from holding state governments hostage intend to lead the U.S. down the path of Hitler, Stalin and Mubarak? That’s a question Ohioans must answer for themselves on Tuesday.