Capital News: Wondering what's next for Josh Mandel

by MARC KOVAC | CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF Published:

Columbus -- I've said it in this space before, and I'll say it again: Josh Mandel seems like such a nice kid.

And, again, I don't mean that disrespectfully. I'm old enough now to shout at people on my lawn, so I can use the word "kid" more liberally. Plus Mandel has joked about his youthful appearance in the past.

Mandel's a military veteran, a husband and a father. He's personable. He's leveraged support from Republicans, Democrats and nonpartisans in past elections.

He's not afraid to go door to door to talk to constituents and listen to their cheers and jeers.

Like I said, a nice kid who, for a time, appeared to be going places politically.

But that messy 2012 Senate race against Democrat Sherrod Brown, recent court deliberations alleging questionable campaign contributions and other issues have left a sour taste in the mouths of voters who normally would wholeheartedly back a guy like Mandel.

I asked a local Rotary group last week which statewide officeholders they thought would win reelection in November.

Almost all of the hands in the room went up, predicting a victory for Gov. John Kasich.

Only one or two hands went up for Mandel. It was a conservative audience, but members weren't as sure about the outcome of the treasurer's race.

The Republican incumbent has kept a lower media profile since his loss to Brown, though he still is active and out and about and keeping a close eye on the state treasury. While criticism of Mandel is frequent, he appears to be doing a solid job in office.

But the guy can't buy much in the way of positive press these days.

Take last week, when he flew down to Florida -- just for the day, on a discount commercial airliner -- to accept an award honoring his work as treasurer.

The Association of Government Accountants presented Mandel with its Excellence in Financial Management Award, with the group's executive director noting in a released statement, "Ohio's finances were not in good shape just a few years ago, and Treasurer Mandel has made significant improvements for Ohio taxpayers."

Mandel, who was nominated for the award by a staff member, was the lone state treasurer to be honored. The association spotlighted Ohio's upgraded fund ratings, reduced office spending, efforts to post state employee salary information online and other accomplishments since Mandel took office four years ago.

"In just over three years we've taken Ohio's financial ranking from 43rd in the country to seventh in the country," Mandel said in a released statement. "I'm proud of this progress and honored to bring this award back to Ohio on behalf of my 11.5 million bosses."

Condemnation of the accolades was swift, however.

Ohio Democratic Party Spokesman Brian Hester offered in a released statement, "He's been traveling around Ohio presenting 'awards' he created in a political stunt to get him positive press in an election year. Given the reports of how he's abused his office for his campaign needs, perhaps Josh should spend some time in Columbus actually doing the job he was elected to do."

To sum things up, Mandel has been honored for his work as state treasurer, critics aren't short on material to counter such assertions and Republican voters are scratching their heads about what's next for the incumbent.

All of which could make for interesting Novembers this year and in 2018.

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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