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In Ohio, GOP pins Senate hopes on young Jewish Iraq vet


As the 2012 campaign heats up in Ohio, Republicans are pinning their hopes on a young Jewish military veteran to unseat Democratic incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Josh Mandel, a 34-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran and the current state treasurer, has faced a number of challenges but he is doing well in the polls. A recent Rasmussen Reports poll showed Mandel only four points behind Brown -- a favorite of organized labor and liberals -- in a hypothetical match-up.

With Ohio seen as a key presidential swing state and control of the U.S. Senate potentially in play, the race is the focus of national attention from Democrats and Republicans.

“The stakes are really high," said Joe Hallett, political editor of The Columbus Dispatch. "A lot of what happens in this race will depend on the national climate. The Democrats have twice as many seats to defend in the Senate than the Republicans, and this seat really could determine control of the Senate.”

Mandel, facing five lesser-known candidates in the March 6 Republican primary, is considered the front-runner for the nomination.

After serving three years as a city councilman in the Cleveland suburb of Lyndhurst and two terms as a state representative, Mandel was elected in 2010 as state treasurer. He is seen as a GOP rising star.

“I know Josh was actively recruited by top party leaders and insiders to run for this seat," said Matthew Brooks, the Republican Jewish Coalition’s executive director. "It was a process that unfolded over several months, with Josh initially not considering the idea. As the support grew and the calls for him became louder, Josh agreed and then fully committed himself to the race and doing what it took to be the next senator from Ohio come November.”

During Mandel’s tenure as a city councilman and state representative, he served in the Marine Corps Reserve and was called into active duty for two tours in the Anbar Province of Iraq.

Mandel told JTA that he was inspired to serve by his grandfathers.

“I’m the grandson of a Holocaust survivor who was liberated by Allied troops, and I’m the grandson of a U.S. Army Air Corps veteran, and these hard-working, gutsy men instilled in me a duty to community and a duty to country,” Mandel said.

While he has served in uniform in the Middle East, he is cautious about making predictions about the region.

Asked whether the Iraq war was a success, he responds, “Time will tell.”

He also said the Arab Spring is “negatively impacting Israel.”

“When terrorist groups are running the countries bordering Israel, it’s not a good situation,” he said. “Time will tell on whether it’s better that Assad will fall.”

Mandel said the United States and its allies face “a common enemy in radical Islam, and it’s an enemy that must be taken seriously.”

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