Josh Mandel leads Ohio GOP Senate campaign ‘through the churches’

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FILE – Josh Mandel, a former Republican Treasurer from Ohio running for an open U.S. Senate seat in Ohio, speaks during a debate against Morgan Harper, a progressive Democrat, Jan. 27, 2022, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)

PA

Before digging into his six-egg omelette at a busy northeast Ohio restaurant, Republican Senate candidate Josh Mandel paused to nod.

“Bless our food, our time, our conversation, in the name of Jesus,” said Pastor JC Church, who joined Mandel after a campaign event at a local church. “Amen”.

The scene encapsulates Mandel’s campaign strategy as he competes in a packed field of Republican candidates ahead of the May 3 primary in Ohio. He is a Jewish candidate who does not hide his faith, but centers his campaign around evangelical churches as he tries to win over religious and conservative voters.

“Usually when somebody runs for the Senate or the Governor or the United States Congress, they attend all the Republican rubber chicken dinners, clams and pork roasts, stuff like that,” Mandel said in a statement. recent interview between campaign stops. “We’re blowing the playbook. I’m avoiding all Republican Party groups and instead campaigning in churches.

Indeed, Mandel’s campaign is steeped in Christianity. His website features an image of a cross and an American flag. He pledges to make decisions in Washington with “the Bible in one hand and the Constitution in the other”. And he holds most of his campaign events at evangelical churches.

Raised in the Cleveland suburb of Beachwood, Mandel is the grandson of Holocaust survivors, attended B’nai B’rith Perlman summer camp and married in Israel. Her children attend a modern Orthodox Jewish school where they study Torah for half a day.

Mandel describes himself as a “proud Jew” and dismisses those, including some key GOP rivals, who have portrayed him as insincere in his emphasis on conservative Christian values.

Some critics say they are more concerned about the story of Mandel’s controversial statements. He was briefly kicked off Twitter after leading a poll on the most crime-committing “illegals”, “Muslim terrorists” or “Mexican gangbangers”, and called Black Lives Matter protesters “thugs”.

The Reverend Tim Ahrens, senior minister at the First Congregational Church of Columbus, said Jesus dedicated his life to caring for those who had been abandoned and forgotten, “so using his name to further divide people is really sick.”

“The problem I have is that when you literally take what the Christian faith is and make a political campaign out of it, that’s an abuse of faith,” he said.

Still, Mandel’s alliance is part of a broader shift in American politics, with Republicans like former President Donald Trump working to win over conservative Christians by aligning themselves with pro-Israel policies. According to the Pew Research Center, American Jews voting overwhelmingly Democratic, some conservative Jewish groups have coalesced with white evangelical Protestants — who are more likely than Jews to favor stronger American support for Israel — to form new right-wing allegiances. .

It is unclear whether this change will benefit Mandel. In a blow to his campaign, Trump endorsed rival JD Vance on Friday.

Mandel sees no contradiction between his faith and his campaign approach.

At his events, the young Navy veteran often comes forward telling how “brave Christians” sheltered his grandmother during the Holocaust, saving her life. And he explains that, when it comes to his support for Israel, he often has more in common with evangelical Christians than with liberal Jews.

“From my perspective, you know for me, I’m a proud American, I’m a proud Marine Corps veteran, and I’m a proud Jew,” he explained. “And when I look at US-Israel relations, I think liberal Jews in America should be ashamed of themselves for supporting anti-Israel groups like J Street. And I think the best friends of the US-Israel relationship in America are evangelical Christians.

Mandel touts his opposition to abortion and his belief that “there is no separation between church and state,” signaling a willingness to support policies such as prayer in public schools and allowing private businesses to refuse customers based on their religious beliefs.

“You know, people want faith instilled in the classroom, in the workplace, in every aspect of society,” Mandel said.

Fred Zeidman, a longtime GOP donor and Mandel supporter who has worked on Jewish outreach for several Republican presidential campaigns, noted that evangelicals are among the party’s most consistent voters.

“If you want to win an election, you have to go where the voters are,” he said. “So I think it’s critical for him, if he’s going to win, that he let the faith community know that he thinks like them. He doesn’t think like 80% of the Jewish community who votes Democrat no matter what. ‘he is coming.

The strategy also caught his attention. In a world where tweets have equal visibility for a politician, Mandel’s particular take on religious topics earned him more than 27,000 mentions on Twitter from October to December – more than religion-related mentions for all other candidates, Republicans or Democrats, combined, according to an analysis for The Associated Press by Zignal Labs.

Stephanie A. Martin, a communications professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said Mandel’s embrace of Christianity could serve to neutralize Republican concerns about his Jewishness in a country where anti-Semitism is still a potent force .

When Mandel describes her platform as protecting “America’s Judeo-Christian foundation,” he is invoking what scholars call “founder’s rhetoric,” she said, which creates “a kind of narrative logic which positions evangelicals as the rightful heirs and rightful defenders”. authentic American values.

“It’s a very smart way to orient around a common understanding of the founding narrative and what it means to have a traditional view of what the country means,” she said, noting that the vision leaves little room for versions of history that are not white. , patriarchal and Christian.

Some of Mandel’s longtime Jewish friends and supporters have described feeling out of place when they first witnessed his events. But they said they have come to see evangelicals as a natural base of support for Mandel, given their shared support for Israel, even though his efforts may make other members of the Jewish community uncomfortable. .

“I wouldn’t say it’s weird, but it’s definitely different. But a big difference,” said Yoel Mayerfeld, a longtime friend and supporter who lives in Mandel’s hometown Beachwood, which has the The second-largest Jewish population per capita outside Israel.Mayerfeld, who is Jewish, said he attended Mandel events where he’d met religious and evangelical Christians who share many of his values.

“I think it’s really unique. I think it’s really beautiful in many ways,” he said.

Rich Soclof, another Jewish friend and supporter of Mandel, said he was “admittedly a little hesitant, not on the concept, but even on what it’s going to be like when I get to this event.” But he too was pleasantly surprised, not least by the fact that Mandel did not try to downplay his own religion.

“I love it. I can’t tell you if I would have loved it 10 years ago,” he said. “He finds that synergy, creatively, by ‘passing it through the churches “and being adopted by them.”

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Smyth reported from Columbus, Ohio.

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