U.S. Elections 2002 Jewish Candidates Vie for Seats in Pivotal Congressional Elections

Four Jewish candidates are vying for seats in the U.S. Senate, 35 for seats in the House of Representatives and two for seats in their state’s governor’s mansion.

For those keeping a Jewish scorecard, it’s an average year, as the number of Jewish candidates goes.

But on the eve of next week’s midterm elections, the political landscape appears anything but typical.

Control of both the Senate and the House are at stake on Nov. 5. And the outcome of the election could affect everything from legislative priorities to who controls powerful congressional committees to how much the Bush administration will drive the agenda.

With a staggering economy, a war with Iraq brewing and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still embroiling the Middle East, the leadership and approach of Congress is significant.

In addition to Jewish candidates, with Jewish turnout at the polls often disproportionately high, the Jewish vote could prove pivotal in several races.

And how they cast their votes will be watched with great interest, not only by the candidates themselves but by those who believe that Jews are growing closer to the Republican Party.

“There will be overwhelming Jewish support for Democratic candidates despite the predictions of Jews going to vote Republican,” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster.

Mellman did note certain cases of moderate Republicans who might garner “better than average” amounts of support from the Jewish community, but whose Democratic opponents would still likely get the lion’s share of Jewish votes.

As Election Day approaches, Jewish political junkies are watching some key races around the country some with Jewish candidates, some without.

Among the Senate races:

Coleman, who like Wellstone, has received financial and political support within the Jewish community, could face even stiffer competition now from Walter Mondale, the former senator and vice president, who is likely to replace Wellstone on the ballot.

Mondale would be expected to take on many of the liberal issues that Wellstone championed, making him an attractive candidate for many Jewish voters.

In New Jersey, another former senator, this one Jewish, is also hoping to rejoin the Senate.

Democrat Frank Lautenberg, who retired from his Senate seat in 2000 and was venerated by the Jewish community, could win the New Jersey seat vacated by Sen. Robert Torricelli, also a Democrat, who quit the race following charges of ethics violations.

With more than 450,000 Jews in the state, the Jewish turnout could have some influence.

The outcome of the New Jersey and Minnesota races will determine whether the Senate retains a minyan of 10 Jews.

A fourth Jewish candidate, Alan Blinken of Idaho, is not expected to win against the Republican incumbent, Sen. Larry Craig.

In New Hampshire, the race for the Senate pits Gov. Jean Shaheen against Rep. John Sununu. Shaheen has garnered some Jewish financial support, mostly to block Sununu.

Sununu, who is of Palestinian and Lebanese background, has come under fire for supporting U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority, though he also has voted for U.S. aid to Israel and has returned campaign contributions from Arab leaders who backed Hamas.

At least $25,000 from pro-Israel political action committees has gone to Shaheen. The more significant funds from large donors are channeled through party organizations or the Democratic Senatorial Congressional Committee.

The exact amount going to Shaheen is not yet known but insiders say a fair amount is coming from Jewish supporters.

In the House of Representatives, some of the most interesting congressional races already played out in the primaries.

A number of other anti-Israel lawmakers are not returning to Capitol Hill for various reasons — including retirement or the decision to run for other office — thereby raising Jewish hopes that the 108th Congress will be one of the most pro-Israel congresses in years.

Some House races of note include:

The 13th District in Florida, where a Jewish Democrat, Jan Schneider, is running against Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris in a new district in Florida. Harris received national attention during the last presidential election for her role in the post-election chaos.

Schneider is an attorney and author of international environmental law books.

In California’s 27th District, Democratic incumbent Brad Sherman is pitted against Republican challenger Robert Levy, a family law attorney and past president of his synagogue’s Men’s Club, in the only “Jew vs. Jew” race in the House.

Two Jews involved in their local Jewish communities are running on Democratic tickets in two new districts in the South.

Harry Jacobs, an attorney and past president of the Orlando Jewish federation, is running as a Democrat in Florida’s 24th District; and Roger Kahn, a businessman active in Atlanta’s Jewish community, is running in Georgia’s 11th District. Kahn is believed to have a better shot than Jacobs at winning.

Rahm Emmanuel, a former counselor to President Clinton, will probably win a seat in the heavily Democratic 5th District in Illinois.

When the campaign season began, it looked like it could be the year for Jewish governors, with seven candidates.

Now, the number of Jewish candidates is down to two, but both Democrat Ed Rendell in Pennsylvania and Republican Linda Lingle in Hawaii are thought to have very good chances of winning.

If Rendell and Lingle prevail, they would be the first Jewish governors since 1994, when Bruce Sundlun served as governor of Rhode Island.

Lingle would become only the second Jewish woman to serve as governor. Madeleine Kunin was Vermont’s governor from 1985 to 1991.

The Jewish vote, meanwhile, could be important in the New York race for governor, where Democrat H. Carl McCall is running against Pataki. In California, Gov. Gray Davis, who received 84 percent of the Jewish vote last time, remains in good stead with California’s Jews while he fights off a challenge from Republican Bill Simon.

And in Florida, Jeb Bush had planned to have Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at his side for a rally earlier in the campaign, but the event was canceled. Nevertheless, reminding voters of his brother’s solid standing on Israel could help Bush in his race against Democrat Bill McBride.

In addition to the political races, there are 202 ballot measures across the country but none have become flashpoints in the Jewish community.

There will be voting on such issues as bilingual education in Massachusetts, Colorado and Nebraska, and banning same-sex marriage in Nevada.

Local Jewish groups have gotten involved in these issues, but there does not appear to be one issue galvanizing the community the way ballot initiatives to promote school vouchers did in 2000.

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