2012 Road Trip, Day 14: What Makes A Good Candidate?
Time – I have seen approximately 263,547 candidates perform in public during my eons as a political reporter. You can tell the good ones immediately. They’re not all the same–but each of the stars has a quality that just jumps out and grabs an audience. I saw four Ohio candidates over the past 24 hours–one running for State Rep, one for Congress and the two candidates for U.S. Senate. Two were very good, one was a maybe, the fourth didn’t connect at all.
From Heath, we drove to Columbus and visited with Josh Mandel, the state treasurer and a veteran of two tough tours in Iraq with the Marines. As soon as I saw him, I asked how old he was. “Yeah, I know,” he said. “I’m 34 but I look 19.” Mandel was scheduled to speak at a training session for Republican candidates for the state legislature. His presentation ranked somewhere between Jim Reese and Brady Jones. He seemed smart and decent, but somewhere way on the down side of charismatic. He had the same formula for success as Brady Jones did, though: “When I first ran for state legislature in a predominantly Democratic district, everyone told me it was impossible. The business community wouldn’t back me because they thought it was a waste of money. But here’s what we did: I knocked on 19,679 doors and talked to people. The best way to win support is to look them eyeball to eyeball on their doorstep and get invited inside, if you can.”
Mandel was smart and attractive, but very low key. He might well develop into a fine politician over time, and I certainly think that combat vets like Mandel bring a terrific can-do toolset to public service, but the idea of him running for Senate seemed a reach at this point of his life–a fact that became very apparent when I caught up with Sherrod Brown this morning in Columbus.
Brown is, whether you like his old-fashioned liberalism or not, a terrific stand-up politician. I saw him work a room of retirees at a senior center and he seemed entirely at ease, truly interested in what they had to say. When we sat down to talk, he swatted away Mandel’s arguments against him with elegant nonchalance. Yes, he had opposed oil and gas drilling in Athens, Ohio, because the entire city council and local Chamber of Commerce had urged him to do so: there was a reservoir nearby that might be endangered. He then rattled through programs he had and supported to get the drilling started, and to make sure that the “jobs go to Ohioans, not to folks coming up from Texas and the Gulf.”