COLUMBUS — In a surprise move Friday that could shake up the 2018 election landscape, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel dropped out of the race, saying his wife has a unspecified health issue.
“Understanding and dealing with this health issue is more important to me than any political campaign,” he said in a statement. “For as long as that takes, whether it is months or years, it is important that I heed my dad’s advice and be there for my wife and our kids.
“After recent discussions with our family and health care professionals, it has become clear to us that it’s no longer possible for me to be away from home and on the campaign trail for the time needed to run a U.S. Senate race,” he said.
Even as he withdrew from the race, the current Ohio treasurer claimed he was on a path to defeating Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is seeking his third six-year term.
“I will continue to serve out the remainder of my term as state treasurer and hope to have the opportunity to serve my state and country again in the future,” he said. “But in the meantime, I must put my family first.”
This was to be Mr. Mandel’s second attempt at the seat after losing in 2012.
Brown campaign spokesman Justin Barasky said simply, “At this time, we wish Josh, Ilana, and their family the best of health. We hope for Ilana’s full and speedy recovery.”
His departure leaves Cleveland businessman Mike Gibbons as the only prominent Republican still in the race, but there’s still time before the Feb. 7 filing deadline for someone to step in. Almost on cue, he pledged on Friday to spend $5 million more of his own money on the campaign, if necessary.
“For months we have been laying the groundwork to defeat Sherrod Brown in November with one of the strongest grass-roots organizations of any outsider in Ohio,” Mr. Gibbons said after offering the Mandel family his prayers. “Now is the time for Republicans to unite as one so we can defeat Sherrod Brown.
“As a conservative outsider, no one is better positioned to end career-politician Sherrod Brown’s career than I am,” he said.
John Weaver, strategist for Gov. John Kasich’s 2016 Republican presidential bid, reacted to questions as to whether the governor might look into a Senate run.
“The answer is no,” he tweeted. “Bigger fish to fry.”
Glen Duerr, associate professor of international studies at Cedarville University, suggested this could create an opening for someone like Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, who is currently in the crowded field to replace her boss.
“With the consolidation of Jon Husted as [Mike] DeWine’s running mate, you would have to say they’re the real front-runner [for governor],” he said. “Jim Renacci is from northeast Ohio, a former mayor of Wadsworth, and a sitting congressman, and he picked a running mate from Cincinnati so he has got the geographic wherewithal to take on DeWine and Husted.
“Mary Taylor would be an interesting option,” Mr. Duerr said. “Serving as lieutenant governor under Governor Kasich has given her a statewide profile. She’s well-spoken and well-liked, but the governor’s race doesn’t suit her very well.”
Taylor campaign spokesman Michael Duchesne would only say the campaign is receiving a lot of calls asking that question. Renacci spokesman James Slepian said the same.
Melissa Miller, associate professor of political science at Bowling Green State University, noted that Mr. Gibbons and another name in the race, Marysville businessman Melissa Akinson, have never held public office and don’t have high statewide profiles.
That, she said, creates an opening.
“There are bigger players who’ve held public office,” she said. “The natural choice would be Governor Kasich. The luminaries in the Republican Party would love to see him step in, but he has not indicated any interest in doing that. He has his eye on the White House, and I think is positioning himself for that.”
In addition to Ms. Taylor, she suggested Mr. Husted could yet be an outside possibility as well as J.D. Vance, the author of the best-seller Hillbilly Elegy, a memoir and social commentary about family values in Appalachian Ohio.
Mr. Mandel was the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination, but he’d lost to Mr. Brown before, and national polls suggest the midterm cycle could be shaping up as a Democratic year.
Mr. Mandel still has a year left in his second term as treasurer and cannot seek re-election. It wasn’t long after he was first elected treasurer in 2010 that the former Cleveland-area state representative launched his first Senate race. Mr. Brown garnered 51 percent of the vote compared to Mr. Mandel’s 45 percent.
“Josh Mandel has made an honorable decision to be with his family in a time of need,” said Ohio Republican Party chairman Jane Timken. “While we are saddened to see him leave the race, we understand, and offer our thoughts and prayers to his family.
“Our focus is, and will continue to be, on electing Republicans statewide and continuing to make Ohio stronger,” she said.
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