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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher April 1, 2022

In Ohio US Senate race, Mandel falsely claimed that Gibbons said military service isn’t ‘real work’

If Your Time is short

  • Gibbons said Mandel has never worked in the private sector. He didn’t say that military service doesn’t count as work.

Josh Mandel and Mike Gibbons, two of the Republicans running for U.S. Senate in Ohio, nearly got physical at one point during a debate. 

Mandel, a former Marine, former state lawmaker and former state treasurer, capitalized on the testy exchange by producing an attack ad against Gibbons, a businessman. 

The TV spot features Ohio resident Sheila Nowacki, the mother of a marine killed in Iraq in 2005. She opens the ad by saying: 

"Mike Gibbons has the nerve to say military service doesn’t count as real work."

That’s not what Gibbons said in the debate.

Mandel’s campaign told PolitiFact it did not want to comment on its ad. In searches of Google and Nexis, a database for news and other information sources, we found no instances of Gibbons saying that military service doesn’t count as real work.


‘Never worked in private sector’

News video of the March 18 debate, which also included the other three major GOP candidates, shows that Mandel criticized Gibbons’ business deals. He then sat down, and Gibbons was asked if he wanted to rebut. 

After Gibbons rose, Mandel continued his criticism, and Gibbons objected to Mandel’s characterizations of his business deals.

Seconds later, the two were standing toe to toe and this exchange occurred:

Gibbons: "You may not understand this because you’ve never been in the private sector." 

Mandel: "I understand it."

Gibbons: "No, you don’t.

Mandel: "I do."

Gibbons: "You’ve never been in the private sector in your entire life."

Mandel: "I worked, sir."

Gibbons: "You don’t know squat." 

Mandel: "Two tours in Iraq. Don’t tell me I haven’t worked. Don’t tell me I haven’t worked."

Gibbons: "You don’t know squat. You don’t know squat."

Mandel: "Two tours in Iraq. Don’t tell me I haven’t worked." 

Gibbons: "Back off, buddy, or you’re going to end up — 

Mandel: "You back off."

After some crosstalk, the exchange ends with:

Gibbons: "You’re dealing with the wrong dude."

Mandel: "No, you’re dealing with the wrong guy. You watch what happens. You watch what happens."

Ad fallout

USA Freedom Fund, a super PAC formed to support Mandel’s campaign, followed up with a similar attack on Gibbons in its own ad. Gibbons, whose son is a Navy pilot, then responded with an ad of his own, saying Mandel is "lying" in claiming that Gibbons doesn’t respect military service.

While Mandel’s employment has largely been in the public sector, he has earned large sums as a member of corporate boards and by joining startups, the Columbus Dispatch reported in August 2021. 

The Dispatch reported that Mandel earned less than some of his opponents in the Senate race, but campaign disclosures showed "the business dealings of a man accustomed to public life who suddenly — and quietly — started to make his way in the private sector."

Ohio race could help decide Senate control

The Ohio Senate seat is opening because the incumbent, Republican Rob Portman, is not seeking reelection.

Both the GOP and the Democratic Senate primaries, to be held May 3, are contested. Besides Mandel and Gibbons, the Republican candidates include Ohio state Sen. Matt Dolan,  former Ohio Republican Party chair Jane Timken and "Hillbilly Elegy" author J.D. Vance. The leading Democratic candidates are U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and consumer protection attorney Morgan Harper.

Overall, the Ohio race is rated variously by campaign watchers as "lean" Republican, "likely" Republican and "solid" Republican.

Our ruling

Mandel claimed in an ad that Gibbons said "military service doesn't count as real work." 

Gibbons said in a debate that Mandel has never worked in the private sector; he didn’t say what this ad claims.

We rate Mandel’s claim False.

RELATED: Ohio’s Josh Mandel repeats false claim of stolen 2020 election

RELATED: Fact-checking whether Biden’s Russia sanctions over Ukraine didn’t start for 30 days, had loopholes

RELATED: The race for the Ohio U.S. Senate seat: A guide

Our Sources

YouTube, Josh Mandel "Sheila" ad, March 26, 2022

Email, Josh Mandel campaign spokesperson Scott Guthrie, April 1, 2022

Columbus Dispatch, "What Josh Mandel did while out of public view," (paywall) Aug. 31, 2021

YouTube, NBC4Columbus "Gibbons vs. Mandel, Ohio U.S. Senate Forum 3/18" post, March 18, 2022

Politico, "Ohio GOP Senate debate turns nasty as Gibbons and Mandel go nose-to-nose," March 18, 2022

Associated Press, "Fight in Ohio GOP Senate debate leads to demand for apology," March 21, 2022, USA Freedom Fund "Real Work" ad, accessed March 30, 2022, Mike Gibbons "He Is Lying" ad, accessed March 31, 2022

Open Secrets, USA Freedom Fund, accessed March 30, 2022

Associated Press, "Fight at Ohio GOP Senate debate elevates military issue," March 21, 2022

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In Ohio US Senate race, Mandel falsely claimed that Gibbons said military service isn’t ‘real work’

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