Ohio GOP Senate candidate questions Jewish faith of frontrunner

Mark Pukita regarding Josh Mandel: "All I did in an ad was pointed out that Josh is going around saying he's got the Bible in one hand and the constitution in the other. But he's Jewish."

 Ohio Republican U S Sen. candidate Josh Mandel speaks to supporters during his election night rally in Columbus, Ohio, November 6, 2012 (photo credit: AARON JOSEFCZYK/REUTERS)
Ohio Republican U S Sen. candidate Josh Mandel speaks to supporters during his election night rally in Columbus, Ohio, November 6, 2012
(photo credit: AARON JOSEFCZYK/REUTERS)

Republican Ohio State Senate candidate Mark Pukita is defending himself over a controversial campaign ad highlighting the fact that race frontrunner Josh Mandel is Jewish, Politico reported on Thursday. 

Mandel, a far-right Republican, is currently considered the frontrunner in the race to replace outgoing State Senator Rob Portman, who will not seek reelection. 

Throughout his campaign, he has presented himself as a very pro-Judeo-Christian values.

“I’m a: Proud American. Proud Jew. Proud Marine. Proud Zionist,” Mandel tweeted. “Everything Democrats hate.”

But Pukita has taken Mandel's Jewish faith as a chance to question his overall faith and sincerity in a radio advertisement, criticizing the frontrunner for visiting churches and trying to get Evangelical support, Politico reported.

Josh Mandel (credit: JOSH MANDEL AND MARK WEYERMULLER / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)Josh Mandel (credit: JOSH MANDEL AND MARK WEYERMULLER / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

“Are we seriously supposed to believe the most Christian-values Senate candidate is Jewish?” a voice actor asks in Pukita’s radio ad, according to Politico. “I am so sick of these phony caricatures.”

“I agree,” a woman replies in the ad, according to the report. “We keep electing people like this, we’ll just keep getting the same terrible results.”

The ad was seen by many as antisemitic, and even resulted in Pukita being cut out of a Center for Christian Virtue forum as a result, according to Politico.

At a debate on Thursday night at the North Columbus Baptist Church, Pukita, who is trailing in the polls, defended these comments after being accused of being antisemitic and inflammatory.

"In terms of antisemitism, all I did in an ad was pointed out that Josh is going around saying he's got the Bible in one hand and the constitution in the other. But he's Jewish,” Pukita said at the debate, according to Politico. 

“Everybody should know that though, right?"

The Bible is originally a Jewish religious text, referred to as the Torah. This makes up what Christians have called the Old Testament.

Another Republican swiftly slammed Pukita for his ad.

“Josh, nobody should question your faith. That's not right,” Republican candidate Bernie Moreno said at the debate, Politico reported. “In the Jewish religion, the Bible is the Bible. That was hard to hear. I'm sorry about that. That's not right. We're better than that, guys.”

Mandel is widely considered a controversial figure by many Americans, including American Jews, for his far-right views. This is seen in his allegedly Islamophobic views and in his support for other far-right figures like former US president Donald Trump and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Brad Kastan, a longtime Republican donor and Columbus Jewish community leader who has known Mandel since they were both leaders at the Ohio State Univeristy Hillel claims Mandel's behavior changed after a second tour in Iraq in 2007.

“When Josh came back from Iraq, his second tour of Iraq, I think his views on Christian-Judeo, on America, and the threat of Islamic radicalism, Islamic terrorism, jihadism, whatever you want to call it — I think that was very, very informed by his tours in Iraq,” he said. “I don’t doubt his sincerity there.”

In 2012, a bunch of Mandel’s in-laws wrote a “whatever happened to Josh” letter to the Cleveland Jewish News, excoriating him for opposing marriage rights for LGBTQ people.

“We still remember the excitement surrounding your wedding, and how happy our family members were as they described it afterward,” said the nine relatives by marriage in the 2012 letter. “Your cousins, Ellen Ratner and Cholene Espinoza, are among the many wonderful couples whose rights you do not recognize. It hurts us that you would embrace discrimination against them and countless other loving couple[s] in Ohio and around the country.”

Ron Kampeas/JTA contributed to this report.