‘But He’s Jewish’: The Ohio GOP Senate Race Just Went There

“Are we seriously supposed to believe the most Christian-values Senate candidate is Jewish?” asks Ohio GOP Senate candidate Mark Pukita's radio ad.
Cameron Joseph
Washington, US
Josh Mandel, the Republican candidate for the Ohio Senate race speaks to a crowd on Tuesday, November 6, 2012 at the Renaissance Hotel in Columbus, Ohio.
Josh Mandel, the Republican candidate for the Ohio Senate race, speaks to a crowd on Tuesday, November 6, 2012, at the Renaissance Hotel in Columbus, Ohio. (Joel Prince for the Washington Post via Getty Images)

It seems that (((dog-whistles))) are just too subtle for modern politics.

Ohio GOP Senate candidate Mark Pukita defended his blatantly antisemitic ad attacking Republican primary front-runner Josh Mandel’s Jewish faith during a Thursday candidate forum.

“Are we seriously supposed to believe the most Christian-values Senate candidate is Jewish?” asks an actor in a radio ad Pukita has recently been airing. “I am so sick of these phony caricatures.”

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Pukita doubled down when asked by a moderator to respond to claims the ad is “antisemitic and intentionally divisive 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, according to Politico. “Everybody should know that though, right?”

Mandel fired back at the attack in a Friday tweet. “Opponents attack me because I’m a proud American and a proud Jew,” he said.

Pukita, an IT consultant, is barely registering in the polls. Mandel, a former Ohio state treasurer who’s repeatedly run for statewide office, has had the early lead, with author and entrepreneur J.D. Vance, former Ohio Republican Party Chair Jane Timkin, and businessmen Bernie Moreno and Mike Gibbons as the other more serious candidates in the race.

Moreno, who spoke next at the forum, slammed Pukita’s comments.

“Josh, nobody should question your faith. That's not right,” Moreno said. “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 hasn’t exactly been high on respecting the values of other faiths (or of secular people) during his current Senate run either. He’s campaigned hard on “Judeo-Christian” values and attacked Islam in an effort to ingratiate himself with the states large Evangelical conservative community.

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“There’s no such thing as separation of church and state,” he declared at a recent Senate debate, arguing that the “Judeo-Christian ethic separates itself from Islam and atheism and all these other belief sets on so many levels, but one of the main levels is our acknowledgment of good vs. evil.” 

“They’re trying to take god out of all aspects of society and they’re trying to water down on the Judeo-Christian bedrock of America,” he continued. “And my personal feeling is we shouldn’t be watering down, we should be doubling down. We should be instilling faith in the classroom, in the workplace, and everywhere in society.”

Mandel has also compared Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban to reptiles, saying “You can keep feeding the alligators, but eventually you will be eaten as well,” and repeatedly claimed the refugees are bringing in “child brides” and COVID-19.

In October, he called for the government to shut down public schools and instead fund Christian and Jewish religious schools:

After running as an establishment-minded conservative in past elections, Mandel has pivoted hard to the right in his current race. The candidate has repeatedly used inflammatory rhetoric, claimed former President Donald Trump had the 2020 election stolen from him, and endorsed Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has made a string of anti-Semitic comments herself.

Mandel has faced criticism from more liberal Jews for this pivot. But he’s fired back against claims he’s seeking to distance himself from his faith:

Ohio’s GOP Senate primary has been a race to the far right. But even by those standards, Pukita’s ad is pushing the limits.