WASHINGTON -- Ohio Tea Party leaders are touting their backing of state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) in his U.S. Senate campaign, saying he is the only candidate who can end federal health care reform.
The group, in town for a grassroots training conference organized by FreedomWorks, the national Tea Party group, said their concerns over the 33-year-old Mandel's age and "seasoning" have been overcome by the Republican's commitment to fighting President Barack Obama's health care reform law. Mandel is challenging U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D).
"Our concern was would he be able to beat Sherrod Brown, who has been in Washington for 20 years," Cincinnati Tea Party leader Ed Bell told HuffPost regarding concerns leaders had over Mandel. "You hate to knock someone for their youth."
Bell said local and statewide conferences among 250 Tea Party groups around Ohio have led the Tea Party to officially back Mandel in recent days. Mandel is considered a top GOP prospect nationally in the Republican Party's bid to retake control of the U.S. Senate.
Bell said Mandel's position against Obama's health care reforms pleased the leaders. He said he believes that Mandel will lead the fight to repeal the act if it is upheld by the Supreme Court later this month, or will oppose any effort to restore the plan if the court overturns it.
"The guy is solid on repealing Obamacare," Bell said. "He will fight like crazy to do that. That is the single top issue with Ohioans."
Democrats have been hitting Mandel for months over his hiring practices in the treasurer's office, his absence for a year of state Board of Deposit meetings, an FBI investigation into one of his campaign contributors and his refusal to discuss several pieces of Senate legislation. Brown has told HuffPost he believes conservative groups will spend more money on the race than liberal ones.
Bell and Cleveland-area Tea Party activist John McAvoy said they believe enthusiasm over Mandel will drive Ohio to favor Mitt Romney over Obama in the swing state. They said Ohio Tea Party activists may work to elect both. Last week, they noted, Romney's Ohio campaign staff asked Tea Party leaders to knock on 10,000 doors for the presidential candidate. The activists reached 25,000 doors. McAvoy noted that the Romney campaign strategy includes making contact with 250,000 voters across Ohio to discuss economic issues and to promote Romney's economic record.
McAvoy and Bell led a delegation of six Ohioans to Capitol Hill Monday afternoon to meet with Brown staffers to lobby the senator to oppose a bill to regulate coal ash. The pair, who did not schedule a meeting with Brown's staff in advance, said they believe the regulations would hamper jobs. They stressed they support the environment.
"Who doesn't want clean air?" Bell said. "It bothers me when someone says that we don't, but there has to be analysis on the impact on jobs."
The group met for 20 minutes with Brown staffers, where they said that they had a chance to press their agenda. They said the Brown staffers were noncommittal. Bell said Brown had not been briefed on the coal issue. The meeting was one of seven with Democratic senators that FreedomWorks staffers encouraged following the training conference Monday. The Ohio group also met briefly with Sen. Rob Portman's (R-Ohio) energy advisor to discuss the coal issue.
Bell said the meeting with Brown staffers gave him new information about the first-term Democrat. "After a lot of discussion about the benefits of coal in Ohio, they claim there is no war on coal by the senator," Bell said. "They said he is for increasing supply. They said he is a big fan of it. That runs 180-degrees from what I am hearing."