As Republicans and Democrats continue to spar over the political implications of Oregon’s special election, Jews have focused on the return of a minyan to the Senate.
Rep. Ron Wyden (D-Ore,), the son of German Jewish refugees, became the 10th Jew in the Senate when he defeated Republican Gordon Smith in Tuesday’s special election held to film former Sen. Bob Packwood’s seat.
Packwood resigned from the Senate last year to avoid facing an ethic committee’s investigation into sexual misconduct and obstruction charges.
Jewish representation in the Senate dropped to nine members after Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) retired before the 1994 elections.
Wyden won with 48 percent of the vote. Wyden’s victory cuts the Republican majority in the Senate to 53-47.
As expected, Jewish Democrats hailed Wyden’s election to Congress’ upper body.
“It’s nice to have a minyan in the Senate,” said an ebullient Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “There was a clear ideological difference between the two candidates and we’re proud and happy about Wyden’s success.”
Wyden, 46, became the first Democrat to represent Oregon in the Senate since John F. Kennedy was president. He also became the second Jewish senator in the state’s history. Sen. Richard Lewis Neuberger was elected in January 1955 and served until his death in 1960.
The NJDC’s political action committee led an effort to channel about $34,000 to Wyden’s cash-strapped campaign.
About 130 people donated money to Wyden through the council’s PAC.
Other Jewish Democrats contributed at least another $34,000 to the campaign, Forman said.
Steve Grossman, president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, congratulated Wyden on his election.
“Ron Wyden has been an active supporter of U.S.-Israel issues in the House,” Grossman said, adding that he “really understands our issues and we look forward to him being a vocal leader in the Senate.”
Wyden, who will serve the remainder of Packwood’s term, which expires in 1998, joins nine other Jewish Senators in the 104th Congress: Barbara Boxer (D- Calif.), Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Herb Kohl (D- Wis.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Carl Levin (D.Mich.), Joseph Lieberman (D- Conn.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa). and Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.).