During speeches along the campaign trail, Ohio Senate candidate Josh Mandel frequently talks about going to Washington D.C. with a Bible in one hand and the Constitution in the other to serve as a reinforcement for conservatives like Ohio’s U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, and former President Donald Trump.
Trump’s support is coveted by multiple candidates in the crowded field to replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman.
Trump has yet to make an endorsement in the race, but Mandel gained what is considered by some strategists as the next best stamp of approval on April 4 when Cruz announced his endorsement of the pro-Trump and America First platform advocate.
“As our nation faces crisis after crisis under Joe Biden, our country needs conservative fighters to stand up to the radical Democrats who want to exploit these problems to deliver socialism to America.
“That’s why I am supporting Josh Mandel for U.S. Senate,” Cruz said in a statement. “A United States Marine, Josh is a proven fighter for our American way of life, a champion for the unborn, and a stalwart advocate for our religious liberties.
“I am proud to endorse Josh Mandel for U.S. Senate, and I ask every conservative in Ohio to do the same.”
The GOP primary is set for May 3, and early voting begins in Ohio on April 5. The final scheduled debate before the primary will take place on April 5, too, at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
Cleveland investment banker Mike Gibbons has held a slight lead over Mandel in the past two independent polls of a GOP U.S. Senate primary that also includes “Hillbilly Elegy” author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance, former Ohio Republican Party chair Jane Timken, state senator Matt Dolan, Columbus entrepreneur and conservative activist Mark Pukita, and Columbus businessman Neil Patel.
Mandel was the frontrunner for several months, but Gibbons has steadily gained ground before overtaking the former state representative and state treasurer.
In a Fox News poll released on March 7, conducted by Beacon Research and Shaw & Company Research from March 2 to 6, Gibbons led public opinion with 22 percent support, followed by Mandel (20 percent), Vance (11 percent), Timken (9 percent), Dolan (7 percent), Patel (2 percent), and Pukita (1 percent).
A poll conducted by The Hill/NBC4i/Emerson College in late February also placed Gibbons in first place with 22.4 of the support, followed by Mandel (14.9 percent), Vance (7.7 percent), Dolan (6.2 percent), and Timken (5.7 percent).
On March 18, Gibbons and Mandel were involved in an on-stage altercation during a debate in suburban Columbus. Mandel took offense to Gibbons’ comment that the Marine who served two tours in Iraq had “never worked a day in the private sector.” The pair went nose-to-nose in a heated exchange.
Since then, Mandel and Gibbons have both released TV commercials criticizing the other about what was said that evening. The incident seemed to have a negative impact on Mandel and Gibbons among audience members.
After the forum ended, FreedomWorks conducted a straw poll of the 400 people in attendance that showed Mandel in last place with 5 percent and Gibbons in third at 43 percent. Vance was the winner with 43 percent. No independent poll has been announced since the debate.
Mandel has centered his campaign on churches by hosting “Faith and Freedom” rallies across Ohio. Last month, a group of 114 clergy members wrote an open letter endorsing Mandel.
“The mantra of our campaign is pastors over politicians,” Mandel said. “I’m more interested in earning the support and endorsements of pastors, Christian activists, and citizens who are Christians than getting approval from politicians.”
Organizations like Ohio Value Voters and the Right to Life Action Coalition of Ohio are supporting Mandel.
Gen. Michael Flynn, who served as Trump’s national security adviser, and North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn have endorsed the Cleveland native as has Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a conservative ally of Cruz.
Club for Growth, a conservative organization that helped elect Cruz in 2012, is supporting Mandel.
“One of the things we’ve seen is, probably second to Trump, an endorsement from Ted Cruz signals the person he’s endorsing is a true believer and a fighter for the things they believe in,” Club for Growth president David McIntosh said.
Though Trump has not weighed in on the Ohio GOP U.S. Senate race, some of his supporters have.
Gibbons has the backing of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. Vance is endorsed by Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway are behind Timken, who also received the approval of Portman, a moderate Republican.
Mandel is proud to have Cruz’s backing.
“As we’ve seen in his 10 years in the Senate, he takes on squishy establishment Republicans just as fast as he takes on leftist Democrats,” Mandel said about Cruz.
“Because for Ted, and for me, this is not about Republican versus Democrat or shirts versus skins type game. This is about standing up for the Constitution, traditional American values, and saving the country for our kids and grandkids.
“One of the problems in Washington is, in my mind, you have a lot of Republicans that have gotten wimpy; they got squishy and wimpy,” Mandel added.
“We’ve got to send steel-spined fighters to Washington—the kind of Republicans that we want to elect are people like Jim Jordan, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and myself. We’ve got to elect fighters.”