The Race for Congress (part 4): Close Campaigns for the House Train Attention on Jewish Issues

Jewish Democrats say the battle for control of the House of Representatives boils down to a war against radical right candidates.

Their Republican counterparts say voters face a choice between fiscal conservatives and tax-and-spend liberals.

As is the case with almost everything in politics, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

In contrast to the six-year terms of senators, all 435 House members face re- election every two years. In this critical election season, Republicans are hoping to stave off Democratic attempts to recapture control of the House of Representatives.

With a current 235 to 197 Republican majority, not counting two vacant seats and one independent, 18 seats need to change hands for the GOP to lose control.

Most congressional watchers give the Democrats and the Republicans an equal chance of taking control of the House.

In a test to the “all politics is local” rule, both parties have projected national issues onto the state races. The Democrats are painting the contest as a battle against Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Republicans are trying to make the election a referendum on President Clinton’s ethics.

Caught in the middle are a handful of close races featuring charges of racism, anti-Semitism and other political firecrackers. Jewish observers are also tracking election battles focused on such issues as school prayer and U.S.- Israel relations.

Church-State Takes Stage

Voters in a handful of races this year will choose between candidates who have radically different views on the separation of church and state.

Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) has been under fire from many Jewish groups since he came to Congress in 1994. Stockman has defended his decision to speak on a 1995 radio show sponsored by the anti-Semitic Liberty Lobby and has told staffers that he would like them to participate in a Christian prayer service for his congressional office every morning.

Stockman also sponsored an unsuccessful bill that would define human life as beginning at conception and has been attacked for maintaining ties to militia groups.

Stockman is facing a stiff challenge from Nick Lampson in a district that was redrawn by court order. Lampson has hit Stockman for his militia ties and his relationship with Larry Pratt, the chairman of Gun Owners of America. Pat Buchanan’s ill-fated presidential campaign fired Pratt earlier this year after news accounts of Pratt’s racist and anti-Semitic preachings.

Another one of the 73 Republican freshmen is facing questions about commitment to religious freedom.

Rep. Andrea Seastrand, the California lawmaker representing the Santa Barbara area, continues to draw fire for calling for an end to the separation of church and state.

At a 1994 campaign rally, Seastrand said, “We also as Christians have been hoodwinked into thinking there is a separation of church and state.”

Seastrand has argued that news accounts of the speech to a church group took her statements out of context.

Walter Capps, the Democratic challenger who lost to Seastrand in 1994, is not focusing on church-state issues. Instead, environmental issues and crime are playing a major role in the close contest.

Ohio voters are also focused on a race in which the Republican candidate strongly opposes government bans on endorsing religion.

Rep. Frank Cremeans has supported a local courthouse’s battle to keep a cross on top of its building. Cremeans invited members of the community to attend a “rally around the cross” and has promised to support legislation protecting religious symbols.

His Democratic challenger, Ted Strickland, the former lawmaker who was defeated by Cremeans in the 1994 Republican landslide, is seeking to return to Washington by running against the GOP agenda.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, Rep. J.D. Hayworth, also a freshman Republican, is battling to retain his seat from one of the country’s largest districts.

Hayworth, a self-described champion of the conservative Republican agenda, has supported school prayer. A co-chair of the freshman class, Hayworth has faced the wrath of many Democratic lawmakers for his firebrand style. His Democratic challenger, Steve Owens, whose wife and children are Jewish, has tried to paint Hayworth as a Gingrich foot soldier and to turn the race into a contest against the speaker.

In Georgia, “A racist Jew,” and a Jewish cookie man

In Gingrich’s home state, Rep. Cynthia McKinney’s (D-Ga.) battle for re- election has turned ugly.

John Mitnick, the Republican Jewish challenger, spent the early part of the campaign trying to paint McKinney as a supporter of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan in an effort to win white and Jewish votes in the newly redistricted suburban Atlanta district.

Bitter at the U.S. Supreme Court decision that nullified McKinney’s black- majority district and Mitnick’s attacks, the congresswoman’s father, a state representative, has called the challenger “a racist Jew.”

McKinney’s father continued to stir passions by falsely accusing Mitnick of taking more than $100,000 in campaign contributions from the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League. As tax-exempt non-profits, the AJCongress and the ADL do not give campaign contributions. McKinney later said that he cited the two Jewish groups because of their support of a Supreme Court decision that led the state to redraw his daughter’s congressional district.

McKinney, the first black woman elected to Congress from Georgia, is running in a radically redrawn district with a large white and Republican population.

For his part, Mitnick attacked McKinney for appearing on a stage with Farrakhan and voting against a House resolution that condemned hateful speech by a Nation of Islam deputy.

In recent weeks, McKinney has elevated her criticism of Farrakhan’s anti- Semitism and racism. She also kicked her father off the campaign, denounced his comments and brought out some Jewish supporters who said she deserves credit for condemning her father and Farrakhan in the same sentence at a news conference.

Republicans charge that her efforts are nothing more than political opportunism.

Not far from McKinney’s district, one of the biggest long-shot races in the country pits Michael Coles, a second generation Jewish immigrant, against Gingrich.

Coles, the millionaire owner of The Cookie Company, acknowledges his slim chances of election, but has forced Gingrich to spend time and money in the district to stave off his attacks.

Israel a Hot Issue

In Texas, former Rep. Ron Paul, a Republican, is trying to return to the House after a 12-year absence. But Charles “Lefty” Morris hopes to stop him with Paul’s own writings, including those about Israel.

The Ron Paul Investment Letter and the Ron Paul Survival Report contain numerous anti-Israel and racist articles from the past decade, Morris has charged.

In March 1987, Paul wrote, “It’s time that Israel stopped running American foreign policy and draining American taxpayers’ wallets.”

In 1992, Paul wrote of blacks in Washington, D.C., “I think that we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal. He added that opinion polls show that “only about 5 percent of blacks have sensible political opinions.”

Paul, who ran as the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate in 1988, has defended his writings, arguing that they were taken out of context.

In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, Rep. Jon Fox, the only Jewish member of the 104th Congress’ freshmen, is reaching out to the large Jewish population in his Philadelphian suburban district. As a member of the House International Relations Committee, he touting his record of support for Israel.

Joseph Hoeffel, his Democratic challenger, has attacked Fox for a scoring a 100 percent rating from the Christian Coalition and has tried to paint him as a Gingrich Republican.

For his part, Fox is running as a fiscal conservative line and has touted his support of welfare reform, health care reform and spending reform.

The National Jewish Democratic Council will distribute its first ever voter guide, supporting Hoeffel in the district, which elected a Democrat in 1992. Local polls show Fox with a slight lead, but most observers say the seat could go either way.

While Fox is running on his pro-Israel record, other Jewish Republicans are hoping to lay the groundwork this year for a future defeat of Rep. David Bonior of Michigan, the third-ranking Democrat in the House.

Bonior has been dogged by criticism for staking out positions in the 1980s widely considered anti-Israel. Bonior supported legislation calling for a Palestinian state, opposed some U.S. aid for Israeli weapons and supported arms sales to Arab states that were opposed by the pro-Israel community.

Republicans and many pro-Israel PACs, who gave him no money this cycle, would like to see him defeated.

But that appears unlikely to happen this year. His opponent, Susy Heintz, the Republican state party chair, is trailing by at least eight points and is considered unlikely to win.

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