WASHINGTON (Aug. 23)
As fall approaches, many in the American Jewish community will be paying closer attention to coming elections for Congress, with an eye on the Senate in particular.
Although the Democrats control the Senate by a relatively wide 55-45 margin, Republicans see an opportunity to win control of the chamber, because never before have so many Democratic incumbents been vulnerable.
By happenstance, the Democratic incumbents facing the toughest re-election challenges are among the strongest supporters of Israel.
One Republican incumbent, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, is also considered vulnerable, and he, too, is a strong supporter of Israel.
The vulnerable Democrats are Sens. Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Paul Simon of Illinois; Tom Harkin of Iowa; Daniel Akaka of Hawaii; and Carl Levin of Michigan.
Levin is one of two Jewish senators up for re-election this year. There are a total of eight Jews in the Senate, five Democrats and three Republicans.
Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R-Minn.), the other Jewish senator whose term expires this year, is expected to have little trouble getting elected to a third term, even though his Democratic opponent will not be selected until the Sept. 11 Minnesota primary.
RHODE ISLAND INCUMBENT VULNERABLE
But Levin, a member of the Armed Services Committee who is also seeking a third term, is expected to be in a close race.
His Republican opponent, Rep. Bill Schuette, who has a good record on Israel, defeated a more conservative opponent in the GOP primary. Schuette is expected to make the liberal Levin’s opposition to the death penalty a major issue in the campaign.
Pell of Rhode Island, who has served 30 years in the Senate, is believed to be the most vulnerable incumbent senator. His opponent is Rep. Claudine Schneider, who, like Pell, has a good record of support for Israel and close ties with the Rhode Island Jewish community.
Pell’s chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee may not be a point in his favor, since by tradition voters concerned with domestic issues have defeated long-term senators after they became chairmen of the committee.
Examples during Pell’s Senate career include J. William Fulbright (D-Ark.), Frank Church (D-Idaho) and Charles Percy (R-III.).
Schneider is one of three Republican congresswomen whom the Republican National Committee is placing its hopes on in its uphill effort to win control of the Senate.
The other two are Rep. Lynn Martin, who is challenging Simon in Illinois, and Rep. Pat Saiki, who is running against Akaka in Hawaii.
Martin has a mixed record on Israel since, like many conservatives, she does not support foreign aid.
Simon has a 100 percent favorable record on Israel going back to his days in the House of Representatives. He won his Senate seat six years ago by defeating Percy, who was the main target of pro-Israel supporters that year.
In Hawaii, both Akaka and Saiki are considered solid friends of Israel. Akaka, a member of the House since 1977, was named to the Senate earlier this year after the death of Sen. Spark Matsunaga, a pro-Israel Democrat.
Saiki, who represents Honolulu, is given a chance to defeat Akaka for the remaining four years of Matsunaga’s term, because she is considered energetic and popular.
CLOSE RACES IN IOWA AND KENTUCKY
Harkin, a member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations running for his second term, is another senator with a 100 percent favorable record on Israel. His Republican opponent, Rep. Thomas Tauke, has a poor record on Israel.
The race is a traditional contest between a liberal and a conservative, with Harkin favoring abortion and Tauke opposed.
McConnell of Kentucky has strongly supported Israel as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But Kentucky is traditionally a Democratic state. When McConnell was elected to the Senate six years ago, it was the first time a Republican had won statewide office since 1968.
His Democratic opponent is Jefferson County Judge Harvey Sloane, who is well-financed and well-known in Kentucky.
The Jewish community is also particularly interested in two races in which the incumbents are expected to be re-elected to their fourth terms in the Senate.
One is in North Carolina, where Sen. Jesse Helms, the arch-conservative Republican, is being challenged for re-election to his fourth term by a black Democrat, Harvey Gantt. Six years ago, Jews were almost solidly in opposition to Helms, who had an anti-Israel reputation.
But after winning re-election, Helms, while still against foreign aid, began speaking out in support of Israel. He urged the U.S. Embassy be moved to Jerusalem and criticized the U.S. dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
CONCERN ABOUT LOUISIANA RACE
The other race of special interest is in Louisiana, where a non-partisan primary will be held Oct. 6. Sen. J. Bennett Johnston, a Democrat who supports Israel, is expected to get the more than 50 percent of the vote needed to eliminate the need for a general election in November.
But there is some concern that if that does not happen, Johnston will be forced into a head-to-head race with the leading Republican candidate, state Rep. David Duke, a neo-Nazi populist and former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
Duke has been disowned by the Republican National Committee, which is supporting state Sen. Ben Bagert. But the polls say Bagert is far behind Duke. If Johnston is denied a clearcut victory in the primary, then no one is certain he can defeat Duke in the general election.
Three Republican senators who have mixed records on Israel are retiring: Bill Armstrong of Colorado, Gordon Humphrey of New Hampshire and James McClure of Idaho. None of their likely successors is considered much better on the issue.
Other Senate critics of Israel are expected to be easily re-elected, with the exception of Sen. James Exon (D-Neb.), who faces a tough race. But his Republican opponent, Rep. Hal Daub, has an even poorer record on Israel.