It was March 18 when Ohio GOP Senate candidates Mike Gibbons and Josh Mandel engaged in a nose-to-nose altercation during a debate in suburban Columbus. The aftermath lingers almost three weeks later.
Mandel alleged that Gibbons sent American jobs to China. Gibbons claimed that Mandel, a former state representative and state treasurer who served two tours in Iraq as a U.S. Marine, has never worked in the private sector.
More words were said in the heated on-stage exchange that was broken up by the moderator, but Gibbons’ remark about Mandel’s lack of private sector experience spurred each campaign to release ads criticizing the other.
A week after the argument, Mandel’s campaign launched an ad with Sheila Nowacki, a Gold Star mother from Painesville, Ohio whose son Andy was killed in action in Iraq.
“Mike Gibbons has the nerve to say military service doesn’t count as real work,” Nowacki said in the spot.
“Marines like Josh Mandel, like my son Andy, risked their lives for our country. Their work is so much more important than Gibbons just making millions for himself. Josh Mandel came home from Iraq. My son didn’t. For God and country, please vote for Josh.”
Mandel has known the Nowacki family since 2005 when he was part of the honor guard that escorted Andy’s body from the airport and performed the 21-gun salute.
Another television spot, spearheaded by the pro-Mandel group USA Freedom Fund, called Gibbons “unfit to serve.”
Marine Sgt. Brian Sizer appears on screen and says that Gibbons’ statement is “disgraceful” and that “he doesn’t appreciate what the military does overseas on deployment because he doesn’t know, he hasn’t done it.”
“Mike Gibbons should be ashamed of himself,” Sizer also said in the ad. “He owes Josh Mandel and everyone else that served the United States military a direct apology.”
The ad with Nowacki followed an open letter written by 15 veterans who said they were “disgusted beyond belief” about Gibbons’ comments at the debate.
“Gibbons owes Josh and all veterans and those currently in the service an apology,” they wrote.
Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who served as former president Donald Trump’s national security adviser and endorsed Mandel, released a video demanding that Gibbons apologize.
Gibbons’ Son Serving in Navy
Gibbons pointed out that he never said Mandel has never worked, but he did say that he has not been employed in the private sector.
The Cleveland investment banker also pushed back against allegations that he was insulting active military members and veterans.
“My son is in the U.S. Navy and was deployed to an undisclosed location earlier this month. My daughter-in-law flies F-18s. I understand both the dedication and sacrifices of the men and women in uniform—and that of their families,” Gibbons said.
“I have nothing but respect for those who have served, including my opponents Josh Mandel and J.D. Vance.”
Like Mandel, Vance served in the U.S. Marines and is running in the GOP Senate primary and vying to replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman.
Gibbons and Mandel are the GOP Senate primary frontrunners, according to the last two independent polls. But the incident at the March 18 debate seemed to have a negative impact on both candidates 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.
Vance encouraged Gibbons and Mandel to sit down as the tension reached an end. When it was his turn to speak a few minutes later, Vance admonished Mandel.
Marines Not a ‘Political Football’
“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.”
In response to Mandel’s ad with Nowacki, Gibbons’ campaign released an ad with Sgt. Jeremy Gons, a Marine Corps combat veteran who said Mandel is lying about Gibbons.
“Josh Mandel launched attack ads claiming Mike Gibbons doesn’t respect military service the very week Mike’s son was deployed overseas,” Gons said in the spot.
Mandel lied about Gibbons because Gibbons told the truth about Mandel’s record as a “career politician with no business experience,” Gons continued.
“Mandel exploits military service to score dishonest political points.”
Appreciate Those in Uniform
On March 26, a group of veterans supporting Gibbons released a letter, part of which read:
“As veterans, Josh Mandel’s attacks on Mike Gibbons are disconcerting and inaccurate. As those who have served, we know the sacrifice and appreciate the service of our fellow men and women in uniform, both active and retired, including Josh Mandel.
“That being said, we unequivocally support Mike Gibbons for the U.S. Senate. He has the experience, temperament, and fighting spirit to be a U.S. Senator.”
It appears that Mandel is ready to move on from the debate altercation—at least in his television spots—as a new ad was released on April 5 about stopping Critical Race Theory.
“Both of us got very passionate that night and got in each others’ faces. Both of us are wired in a way that if someone comes at us, we go back at them,” Mandel told Cleveland talk show host Bob Frantz on April 5.
“That is what happened on stage and what ensued on TV over the past couple of weeks.
“Elections are choices. Gibbons stuffed his pockets by taking American companies and American jobs and selling them into China, India, and Mexico at the same time President Trump was working to bring American jobs back to our country,” Mandel continued.
“If voters of Ohio care about bringing jobs back to our state, I am the guy who will fight just like President Trump did. That is a debate we are looking forward to having.”