Jews Favor Democrats As Number of Jewish Senators Jumps

There was the candidate for U.S. Senate who said she was a “wannabe” Jew. And there was the candidate for U.S. Senate who said he didn’t wannabe any kind of Jew. And between those two — U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) and U.S. Sen. George Allen (R- Va.) — there were at least two dozen unambiguous Jews running for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and at least 12 for the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who votes with Democrats, has brought the number of Jewish senators from 11 to 12 — the highest ever number in that body.

CNN projected his win early in the evening. Sanders replaces Jim Jeffords, another independent from the iconoclastic state, who is retiring.

Another three Jewish incumbent senators are up for re-election this year and were considered likely to win: Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent in Connecticut who has pledged to vote with the Democratic caucus; Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.); and Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.)

Another possible Jewish gain in Maryland was U.S. Rep. Ben Cardin, a Democrat, but that race was still too close to call late Tuesday.

All but one of the Jews elected or re-elected to the House and to the Senate on Tuesday were Democrats.

The traditional Jewish affinity for that party appeared reinforced by a CNN exit poll showing support from 87 percent of Jewish voters. Only 10 percent favored Republicans.

Those returns — the highest favoring Democrats in 14 years — appeared to repudiate a barrage of pre-election Republican Jewish Coalition ads saying Democratic support for Israel was eroding.

Overwhelmingly, Jewish and Israeli officials said little would change for Israel if Democrats took one or both houses of Congress from the Republicans. They said bipartisan support for Israel remained solid.

Deadlock between Congress and the White House “will influence domestic policy, immigration, health care, taxes, social policies, the Supreme Court,” said Daniel Ayalon, the outgoing Israeli ambassador to Washington. “It won’t influence foreign policy, with the possible exception of Iraq. For sure, not the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

In a year in which candidates ran and voters voted overwhelmingly on national issues, Jewish voters and candidates were no different.

“This vote is a referendum on the Iraq war,” said Lisa Sockett, a part-time law professor and mother of two from Arlington, Va.

She said Iraq and Republican opposition to gay marriage informed her vote for Jim Webb, a Democrat running against Allen.

One constant among Jewish candidates and those close to the Jewish community was health care: It was a central issue for Gabrielle Giffords, a Jewish state lawmaker from Arizona favored to win a Republican-held seat, for Steve Kagen, a doctor, in a close race in a Republican-held seat in Wisconsin, and John Sarbanes, a health care lawyer running for Cardin’s old seat in Maryland.

“Any time you have a community that makes part of its culture reaching out to the less fortunate, the health care issue will be front and center,” said Sarbanes, whose wife and children are Jewish and who belongs to a Baltimore area synagogue.

“You’re reaching out to people who don’t have health insurance.”

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