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The ’88 Congressional Races: Incumbent Jewish Senators Face Tough Battles for Re-election

The three Jewish senators up for re-election this year all face stiff competition in elections this November, political analysts agree.

But while Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) have received a lot of support from 17 of the largest pro-Israel political action committees, Sen. Chic Hecht (R-Nev.) has been shunned by most of the 17, because of his support for weapons sales to Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

The 17 PACs make campaign contributions based solely on a candidate’s commitment to the pro-Israel position. They awarded close to $1.45 million through March 31 to congressional campaigns this election cycle, Federal Election Commission records show.

About $900,000 has gone to Senate campaigns and $500,000 has been spent on House races. The remainder, $45,000, was distributed to various presidential candidates.

Among the three Jewish incumbents, Metzenbaum received $76,500 from 14 pro-Israel PACs, and Lautenberg $61,250 from 12 of them. By contrast, Hecht received $5,300 from two of the PACs.

Morris Amitay, treasurer of Washington PAC, the second largest of the pro-Israel political fund-raising organs, said Hecht is in disfavor for a 1983 vote supporting sales of sophisticated weapons to Jordan and a crucial 1986 one that helped gain approval for an arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

Amitay’s PAC gave the maximum $10,000 contribution allowed under federal law to Hecht’s challenger, Gov. Richard Bryan of Nevada, a Democrat. Bryan also received $17,000 from other pro-Israel PACs.

Metzenbaum, 71, is being challenged by Cleveland Mayor George Voinovich, a Republican. Chris Gersten, executive director of the National Jewish Coalition, a Republican group here, said Voinovich “has the best shot of any potential Republican challenger.”

One of Metzenbaum’s problems is that Voinovich may win Metzenbaum’s traditional urban base of support in Cleveland, analysts said.

In New Jersey, Lautenberg “is in deep trouble,” Gersten said, although, like Voinovich, Republican challenger Pete Dawkins has not received any money from the 17 PACs.

Amitay predicted that the race “could be extremely tough” for Lautenberg against Dawkins, a brigadier general, former Heisman Trophy winner and Rhodes scholar.

OTHER MAJOR RACES

In other Senate races, Sen. David Durenberger (R-Minn.), who is being opposed by Hubert “Skip” Humphrey III, a Democrat, has a “healthy lead,” Gersten said. Durenberger received $59,000 from 10 pro-Israel PACs, while Humphrey received just $1,500.

In Rhode Island, Lt. Gov. Richard Licht, a Democrat who is a veteran fund-raiser for the United Jewish Appeal, received $84,500 from 14 of the PACs, more than any other candidate. He is trying to unseat Sen. John Chafee (R-R.I.), who did not receive any money from them.

Gersten said pro-Israel PACs are making a “mistake” in providing massive support to Licht against Chafee. He argued that Chafee is not an “avowed opponent” of Israel.

But another analyst said Chafee has been all right on foreign aid, but bad on arms sales. He also noted Licht has raised more money than Chafee, a strong indicator of ability to win.

In California, Republican Sen. Pete Wilson received $25,800 from seven pro-Israel PACs through March 31, while his challenger, Democratic Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy, did not receive any funding. McCarthy did receive $6,000 from the Multi-Issue PAC, which was formed by Jews to counter the single-issue pro-Israel PACs.

In Connecticut, the state’s Jewish attorney general, Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat, is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Lowell Weicker. But the PACs are sticking with Weicker, having given him $60,000 through March 31.

In Nebraska, Gov. Bob Kerrey, a Democrat, received $5,000 from Washington PAC for the general election, while National PAC gave incumbent Republican Sen. David Karnes $5,000 for the Republican primary, which he won.

Other incumbents who have received large sums from the 17 pro-Israel PACs are: Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M), $70,500; James Sasser (D-Tenn.), $49,000; and George Mitchell (D-Maine), $46,500. None of them is facing a tough re-election campaign. One analyst defended such support as valuable because the PACs are “giving to a winner.”

SIX OPEN SENATE SEATS

There are six open Senate seats this year, left vacant by the announced retirements of Sens. John Stennis (D-Miss.), Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.), Daniel Evans (R-Wash.), William Proxmire (D-Wis.), Robert Stafford (R-Vt.) and Paul Trible (R-Va.).

In Florida, Republican Rep. Connie Mack will likely face one of four possible Democrats, in what Amitay termed a “no lose” situation.

In Washington, Democratic Reps. Mike Lowry and Don Bonker are vying for the nomination against former Sen. Slade Gorton. All of them are considered pro-Israel. One analyst praised Gorton’s voting record in the Senate from 1980 to 1986.

Wisconsin features six candidates for Proxmire’s seat, with many of the PACs taking a wait-and-see position.

In Mississippi, Democratic Rep. Wayne Dowdy will face Republican Rep. Trent Lott. National PAC gave both candidates $5,000 for their primaries, but its executive director, Richard Altman, said it has not taken a position on the general election.

Amitay, whose PAC is supporting Dowdy, criticized National PAC’s decision to support both candidates, saying doing so will “earn the contempt of both.”

In Vermont, William Gray, a Democrat, has received $1,000 from Washington PAC, while Republican Rep. James Jeffords received $2,000 from the Hudson Valley PAC.

Amitay said Jeffords has a “fair record,” while Gray, a former U.S. attorney who headed the 1986 re-election campaign of Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, has an “excellent” position paper.

In Virginia, former Gov. Charles Robb, a Democrat, is considered a shoo-in to win. He received $6,000 from the PACs.

Next: The House Races

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