WASHINGTON (Oct. 30)
The number of Jews in Congress could increase next year.
Three Jewish newcomers are seeking election to the Senate Nov. 8, along with three Jewish incumbents. In the House, 18 Jewish candidates are seeking to join the 28 Jews now serving as U.S. representatives.
In the Senate, where seven Jews now serve, Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) is seeking his third term and Chic Hecht (R-Nev.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) are each running for their second.
The three Jewish challengers, all Democrats, are Connecticut state Attorney General Joseph Lieberman, who is running against three-term Sen. Lowell Weicker Jr.; Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Richard Licht, who is facing two-term Sen. John Chafee; and Herbert Kohl, the wealthy owner of the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team, who hopes to succeed Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.), who is retiring after 31 years in the Senate.
Hecht, the only Republican among the Jewish senatorial candidates, is also considered the most likely of the three incumbents to lose his seat.
Although his prospects have improved lately, Hecht is the underdog in a race against Nevada’s popular governor, Richard Bryan. The Democratic governor has been receiving the bulk of contributions from pro-Israel political action committees, because they are dismayed by Hecht’s votes in favor of arms sales to Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
LAUTENBERG, METZENBAUM FAVORED
While Lautenberg and Metzenbaum are both engaged in tough races with their Republican opponents, they are favored to win as the election campaign moves into its final week.
Lautenberg is being challenged by Pete Dawkins, the former West Point football star and army general, whose celebrity status and instant name recognition was originally seen as a threat to the New Jersey Democrat. But the senator is now believed to be well ahead in the polls.
The same is true for Metzenbaum, whose opponent, Cleveland Mayor George Voinovich, has not been able to cut the advantage Metzenbaum enjoys as an incumbent, despite earlier predictions that he could defeat the Democratic senator.
The three Jewish challengers also are not expected, at this time, to overcome the advantage their opponents enjoy as incumbent senators. In all six Senate races, the presidential campaign is expected to have only a marginal effect.
In Connecticut, the latest poll shows Lieberman and Weicker almost neck and neck, although the Republican senator, a liberal maverick in his party, has been ahead for most of the year.
Both men have enjoyed popularity in the Jewish community in their previous races. Weicker and Metzenbaum have been the leading opponents in the Senate of any attempts to weaken the separation of church and state and other First Amendment constitutional guarantees.
Weicker has criticized Lieberman for supporting a moment of silence in the public schools. Lieberman has faulted Weicker for being one of 55 senators who signed a letter to Secretary of State George Shultz last spring critical of Israeli Premier Yitzhak Shamir’s stance on the peace process.
The race in Rhode Island has become one of the most controversial in the Jewish community. Pro-Israel PACs have donated funds exclusively to Licht, because of Chafee’s support for arms sales to the Arab countries. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has been accused of orchestrating the anti-Chafee drive, a charge which it has denied.
At the same time, Jewish Republicans have defended Chafee, stressing that he is not anti-Israel and has always supported military and economic aid for Israel.
The Jewish challenger seen as having the best chance to win is Kohl, who spent millions of his own money in the Wisconsin Democratic primary. He is doing the same thing in the race against his Republican opponent, who is Susan Engeleiter, minority leader of the state Senate.
While incumbency is an advantage in the Senate, it is just about a guarantee of re-election in the House, especially in recent years with PACs contributing most of their money to incumbents, regardless of party affiliation.
But at least two of the 24 Jewish Democratic and four Jewish Republican incumbents may have a difficult time getting re-elected. They are Rep. Howard Wolpe (D-Mich.), who has faced close races in his Lansing district since first being elected in 1978, and Rep. John Miller (R-Wash.), whose Democratic challenger, Reese Lindquist, lost by only 5,000 votes in 1986.
The one Jewish newcomer elected two years ago was Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), who ran for an open seat. Three of the Jewish challengers this year are running for open seats. They are Steve Schiff, a Republican of New Mexico, and two New York Democrats, Elliot Engel and Rosemary Pooler.
Pooler, who is active in the Syracuse Jewish community, ran a close race two years ago against Rep. George Wortley, which was not decided until the absentee ballots were counted. But the Republican incumbent is not seeking reelection this year.
ONE JEWISH WOMAN IN HOUSE
There is only one Jewish woman in the House, Rep. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). In addition to Pooler, three other women are seeking first terms in the House.
They are Lana Pollack, a Democrat challenging Rep. Carl Pursell (R-Mich.); Myrna Alpert, a Republican opposing Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.); and Nita Lowey, a Democrat opposing Rep. Joseph DioGuardi (R-N.Y.).
In Alaska, Peter Grunstein, a Democrat, is opposing Republican Rep. Don Young in a statewide race for Alaska’s lone House seat.
Among the other challengers, only two are Republicans, both running against Jewish incumbents. Jim Salomon is challenging Rep. Anthony Beilenson (D-Calif.), and Herb Sohn is opposing Rep. Sidney Yates (D-III.), dean of the Jewish House members.
The other Jewish candidates are Bob Feigenbaum, opposing Rep. Jack Buechner (R-Mo.); Gene Freund, opposing Rep. James Lightfoot (R-Iowa); Gene Friedman, opposing Rep. John Porter (R-III.); David Landow, opposing Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.); Roger Pearson, opposing Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.); Ed Reibman, opposing Rep. Don Ritter (R-Pa.); Robert Weinberg, opposing Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.); and Norm Weinstein, opposing Rep. Jim Courter (R-N.J.).
In addition, Bernie Sanders, the Socialist mayor of Burlington, Vt., is running as an independent for a House seat.