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A Brown-Mandel Rematch For Ohio's Senate Seat?

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Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, Republican, versus incumbent U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, Democrat.

Sound familiar?

Getting that weird déjà vu feeling?

Well, can't blame you.

If you were voting in Ohio in 2012, you faced that same choice for the U.S. Senate seat – a race that Brown, who had unseated Republican incumbent Mike DeWine six years before, won over Mandel by six percentage points.

Now, in 2018, dear Ohio voter, you may face the very same choice again.

Mandel, term-limited out in 2018, formally announced his latest campaign to unseat Brown this past week in a web video.

Back in 2012, Mandel was a candidate who was a bit wet behind the years – a 34-year-old who had served with the Marines in Iraq and was swept into the treasurer's office in 2010 in a humongous Ohio GOP tsunami where the Republicans swept all of the statewide offices, from governor and senator on down.

When he announced his 2012 Senate campaign, he was immediately jumped on by Ohio Democrats because he had barely warmed the seat in the Ohio treasurer's office before he was raising money and putting together an organization for a Senate run.

And there was a general consensus that, in 2012, Mandel ran a pretty bad campaign, even with massive support – about $60 million - from conservative independent expenditure groups.

But Mandel may have wised up considerably since that race in 2012; and there is no question that the political landscape in Ohio changed this year. Only a few months ago, it would have been hard to imagine Donald Trump winning Ohio by a sizeable margin, but that's just what he did.

Back during the Ohio primary, Mandel bucked the party and endorsed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for the GOP presidential nomination – a move that, as you might imagine, did not go over well with another GOP presidential contender, Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

But, in his two-minute video announcing his candidacy, Mandel made it clear he plans to cozy up to the president-elect, using some standard Trumpisms such as "we'll drain the swamp" in Washington and that the system inside the Beltway is "rigged."

That may or may not be a good strategy. Good, if Trump proves to continue being popular with his Ohio base by making good on a raft of campaign promises. Bad, if Trump, as president, falls flat on his face.

Brown himself is a progressive, populist type Democrat out of the Elizabeth Warren-Bernie Sanders mold; and is actually pretty much in tune with Trump on issues of "fair trade."

Kyle Kondik, an Ohioan and political analyst at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said a Brown-Mandel rematch would attract enormous amounts of money and media attention.

Ohio will be, Kondik said, one of 10 states in 2018 won by Donald Trump where Democrats will be defending their Senate seats.

"What we don't know is what the national political environment is going to be like in 2018,'' said Kondik, who is managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, a weekly newsletter on politics published by Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics. "That could make a big difference in this race."

But, the fact is, Mandel may not have a clear path to the Republican nomination. He may face a primary fight.

U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi of Delaware County – a political ally of Kasich – has made it clear that he may jump into the race.

Then there is Kasich himself.

Kasich, who never endorsed Trump and would barely acknowledge that Trump existed, can't run for re-election in 2018 under Ohio's term limits law. And there are some who think that if he wants to continue in politics, running for Senate in 2018 might be the logical choice.

"I've been wondering if Kasich might jump in,'' Kondik said. "But, at this point, there's no indication that he plans to do that."

If Tiberi were to get in, he might well be expected to step aside for his friend Kasich if the governor decides he wants to take on Brown.

But, for the time being, the only announced Republican candidate out there raising money and putting together a campaign organization is Josh Mandel.

In fact, this week's announcement was just a formality.

"The fact is,'' Kondik said, "Josh Mandel has never stopped running for the Senate."

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