An on-stage altercation between the two leading candidates in the Ohio GOP U.S. Senate race unfolded during a forum Friday evening.
Josh Mandel, the former Ohio State Treasurer, and Ohio State Representative who for months was the front-runner in the campaign to replace retiring GOP Senator Rob Portman, has directed his attention on the 69-year-old Mike Gibbons, a Cleveland investment banker who surpassed Mandel and claimed the top position in two recent independent polls.
Organized by FreedomWorks and held in the Columbus suburb of Gahanna, the debate featured Gibbons, Mandel, ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance, former Ohio Republican Party chairperson Jane Timken, and Ohio State Senator Matt Dolan.
After each candidate delivered opening remarks, the moderator asked the first question centered around Russia and China, how Congress approved billions in aid for Ukraine, and the ban of Russian oil and imports.
Mandel claimed that Gibbons made “billions of dollars” shipping Ohio businesses to China and owning a Chinese petro company’s stock.
Gibbons was given the opportunity to respond.
Mike Gibbons and Josh Mandel get in each other’s faces at tonight’s GOP #OHSen forum hosted by FreedomWorks.
“You watch what happens,” Mandel says. pic.twitter.com/fQuqfHxXHT
— Heartland Signal (@HeartlandSignal) March 18, 2022
When he stood up, he looked at Mandel and said he wasn’t sure about Chinese petro.
“Are you saying I owned it?” Gibbons asked Mandel.
“You owned stock in it,” Mandel responded.
“I personally didn’t buy the stock,” Gibbons said.
“You made millions off it, sir,” Mandel added.
“I don’t think I made millions,” Gibbons said with a grin. “I would have loved to have made millions off Chinese petro.”
Gibbons, who played football at Cleveland’s traditional-rich St. Ignatius High School and Kenyon College, faced the audience to begin his answer to the moderator’s question when Mandel interrupted again.
Gibbons turned back to Mandel and said, “You might not understand this cause you’ve never been in the private sector in your entire life.”
Mandel jumped from his chair, went face-to-face with Gibbons, and shouted “I’ve worked sir. Two tours in Iraq. Don’t tell me I haven’t worked.”
“You don’t know squat,” an irritated Gibbons responded.
The moderator intervened to separate the pair, but the tension continued.
“You don’t know squat,” Gibbons said again.
“Two tours in Iraq!” Mandel shouted once more.
“Back off buddy,” Gibbons said.
“You back off,” Mandel snapped.
The moderator once again attempted to restore order, but Mandel said to Gibbons, “Watch this. Watch it. You’re dealing with the wrong guy. You watch what happens, pussy. You watch what happens.”
Vance, Timken, and Dolan awkwardly watched the fracas, and Vance encouraged Gibbons and Mandel to sit down.
When peace finally prevailed, Gibbons faced the audience and spoke.
“Josh doesn’t understand this because he has never spent a day in the private sector,” Gibbons said. “When you buy a secondary stock, you aren’t giving money to the company. I didn’t even know I owned it.
“If it was purchased, it was by a U.S.-based bank,” Gibbons explained. “I was working in the private sector and don’t have time to watch my stock portfolio. I’m too busy working.”
A few minutes later, while answering the next question, Gibbons said, “You may be wondering why every time Josh gets up, he is focused on me. For the first time in the campaign, he is no longer in the lead. And the standard political technique for regaining lead is by attacking the leader.
“Josh, there is a reason you are no longer in the lead. We just saw some of it tonight,” Gibbons continued. “People are tired of people who don’t know anything other than how to get elected. I will grant him all of the political knowledge in the world. He knows far more than I do about that.
“As long as I hold the lead, this is what the debates will look like, so get used to it,” Gibbons added.
Mandel has attacked Vance’s military service. Like Mandel, Vance served in the Marine Corps.
“The way you use the U.S. Marine Corps is disgraceful. It’s not a political football for you to toss around,” Vance said. “Think about what we just saw. This guy wants to be a U.S. senator, and he’s up here saying ‘Hold me back, hold me back, I got two tours in the Marine Corps.’ What a joke. Answer the question. Stop playing around.”
Scott Guthrie, Mandel’s campaign manager, defended his candidate’s questioning of Gibbons’ financial dealings.
“Mike Gibbons got upset tonight that he was called out for his investments in Chinese oil. He claims not to remember the investment, but it’s part of a pattern of Gibbons’ entire career making money by taking American companies and selling them to foreign interests,” Guthrie said. “While Ohioans are struggling to make ends meet in Joe Biden’s America, Mike Gibbons spent his entire career profiting by shipping jobs overseas and investing in places like China and Russia.”
Mandel has participated in multiple confrontations during previous debates. The Cleveland-area native remains steadfast in his campaign strategy of unapologetically advocating for former President Donald Trump’s America First platform and focusing on attending events at churches across Ohio.
Last month, at City-God Baptist Fellowship in Cleveland, he had several heated exchanges in a one-on-one debate with Democrat Morgan Harper, a far-left leaning attorney, and activist, whom Mandel called an “angry radical leftist.”
After comments he made regarding Black Lives Matter rioters — calling them “thugs” — Mandel also became involved in verbal sparring with a black female audience member who said to the moderator, “Ask him to leave. He don’t belong in the black community.”
The second Josh Mandel v. Morgan Harper debate is going completely off the rails pic.twitter.com/DtZJZxmK40
— Tyler Buchanan (@Tylerjoelb) February 22, 2022
“Let me tell you something ma’am. I put my life in the hands of young black guys. I had young black men put their life in my hands in the United States Marine Corps in two tours in Iraq, so don’t stand there and lecture me,” Mandel responded, speaking over the moderator’s attempts to calm the situation.
Once considered the favorite to win the GOP Senate primary, Mandel has seen his lead in the polls gradually decline this year.
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), former Ohio Republican Party chair Jane Timken (9 percent), State Sen. Matt Dolan (7 percent), businessman Neil Patel (2 percent), and businessman Mark Pukita (1 percent).
The survey indicated that 24 percent of voters are undecided. Many supporters of Vance (66 percent), Mandel (64 percent), and Gibbons (62 percent) said that they could change their mind before the primary, which is currently slated for May 3.
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).
These poll results were a dramatic change from previous surveys, all of which had showed Mandel in the lead.
After Friday’s debate, Gibbons’ spokesperson Samantha Cotten released a statement about Mandel’s conduct.
“Josh Mandel is unhinged, unfit, and flailing — because he’s losing. He is only a professional at one thing: running for office. He is hellbent on lying because he is failing,” Cotten said. “He doesn’t have the temperament, experience, or fortitude to be a U.S. Senator and Ohio voters got a first-hand look at just how unprepared Josh Mandel has become and that will be reflected on the ballot on May 3 (the date of Ohio’s primary).
“We can’t leave this race to child-like candidates,” Cotten added. “We need an adult in the room and Josh Mandel has proven that he is not capable of being that for Ohioans.”