Jewish Pacs Largely Supporting Incumbents in U.S. Senate Races
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Jewish Pacs Largely Supporting Incumbents in U.S. Senate Races

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With a couple of notable exceptions, most of the millions of dollars raised by U.S. Jewish groups this year on behalf of candidates for the U.S. Senate is going to incumbents of both parties, rather than to their challengers, Federal Election Commission records show.

The preference for incumbents can be largely attributed to both a desire to “go with the winners” and a perception that the choices this year are mainly between good candidates and better ones, as opposed to friends versus foes of the Jewish community.

The 46 largest pro-Israel political action committees awarded more than $2.8 million to candidates through June 30. Of that money, $300,000 came from four multi-issue PACs, which evaluate candidates’ stands on domestic issues, as well as support for Israel.

Roughly half of the 33 seats up for election in the Senate are considered close races, with Jews most closely watching the re-election bids of Jewish Democrats Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey.

The other Jewish senatorial incumbent, Republican Chic Hecht of Nevada, is in disfavor with many Jewish groups for voting to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia and Jordan. He is being largely ignored by the pro-Israel PACs.


Hecht’s challenger, Democratic Gov. Richard Bryan, received $29,000 to Hecht’s $6,500 from the 42 largest Jewish single-issue PACs through June 30. That trend held in analyzing subsequent contributions through Sept. 30 of six of the largest PACs, which donated $1.5 million of the $2.8 million distributed by June 30.

The four major multi-issue Jewish PACs, which object to Hecht’s conservative views, gave Bryan $16,000 by June 30, and $24,000 through Sept. 30.

The other major Senate race in which Jews largely are favoring the challenger over the incumbent is the contest in Rhode Island, where Lt. Gov. Richard Licht, a Democrat, is trying to unseat Republican Sen. John Chafee.

Licht, who has been active in United Jewish Appeal campaigns, has raised $190,000 from pro-Israel PACs, and reportedly at least another $500,000 in private Jewish contributions.

Such a Jewish consensus does not exist in California and Minnesota, where the single-issue Jewish PACs are backing the Republican incumbent, while the multi-issue Jewish PACs are mainly supporting the Democratic challenger.

In Minnesota, Democrat Hubert “Skip” Humphrey III received $7,000 from three multi-issue PACs through Sept. 30, federal records show. But the largest of the multi-issue PACs, the Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs, gave $7,500 to incumbent Sen. David Durenberger, a Republican who also received support from the Jewish single-issue PACs.

In California, the 42 Jewish single-issue PACs contributed $54,600 to conservative Sen. Pete Wilson through June 30. But two of the multi-issue PACs are supporting Democratic challenger Leo McCarthy, based on what they say is his better record on church-state issues.

In Indiana, one of the smaller of the Jewish multi-issue PACs, the Fund for Freedom, gave $1,000 to incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar, a Republican.

But Lugar received a mere $5,000 from the Jewish single-issue PACs through June 30, and no additional money from six of the largest ones followed through Sept. 30.


In 16 states where incumbents are considered shoo-ins to be re-elected, the challengers received no PAC money: Arizona, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.

Only one of the incumbents in those states, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, apparently did not receive any pro-Israel PAC money.

The races in Connecticut and Wisconsin are considered no-lose propositions.

In Wisconsin, very little PAC money has been spent on the race between Republican Susan Engeleiter and Democrat Herbert Kohl, with Kohl, who is a Jewish multimillionaire, not accepting PAC money. They are battling for the seat vacated by Democratic Sen. William Proxmire.

In Connecticut, all of the pro-Israel PAC money, single- and multi-issue alike, has gone to incumbent Sen. Lowell Weicker Jr., a maverick Republican liberal. The multi-issue PACs prefer having Weicker hold a Republican seat on key committees than have a freshman Democratic seat held by challenger Joseph Lieberman, the state attorney general.

Other interesting Senate races not involving Jewish candidates are in Mississippi, Florida, Nebraska, Vermont and Washington.

In Mississippi, the PACs are betting more than $50,000 on Democratic Rep. Wayne Dowdy. Dowdy is facing an uphill climb against Republican Rep. Trent Lott, the House minority whip, who received around $10,000, apparently most of that for the primary election. They are seeking the seat vacated by Democratic Sen. John Stennis.

In Florida, Nebraska and Vermont, the PACs are divided, and are spending comparatively few dollars because of late primaries.


In Florida, they are split between Democratic Rep. Buddy MacKay and Republican Rep. Connie Mack III, to fill the seat vacated by Democratic Sen. Lawton Chiles. Both had received about $5,000 each from the 46 Jewish PACs through June 30, and no additional money from six of the largest ones through Sept. 30.

In Nebraska, the PACs are split between Democratic Gov. Robert Kerrey and incumbent Republican Sen. David Karnes. Kerrey received $29,000 from the 46 PACs through June 30, while Karnes received $20,250, but analysts asserted that much of that money was used to defeat “unfriendly” Republican Rep. Hal Daub in the primary.

In Vermont, the PACs are split between Democratic hopeful William Gray and Republican Rep. James Jeffords. Jeffords received $14,250 from the PACs through June 30, while Gray received $6,000.

Only $1,000 has been expended by pro-Israel PACs in Washington state. All of it has gone to former Republican Sen. Slade Gorton, who did not run for re-election in 1986, but is running this year against Democrat Rep. Mike Lowry for the seat vacated by Republican Sen. Daniel Evans.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund