Congressional races to watch


WASHINGTON, Oct. 24 (JTA) – Why do Jews watch certain congressional races more closely than others? Sometimes there’s interest in a particular Jewish candidate.

The 106th Congress had 23 Jewish representatives and 11 Jewish senators. At least a dozen new Jewish candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives, nearly all of them Democrats, could get elected next month, significantly boosting the Jewish presence in Congress. Sometimes races are watched closely because the Jewish vote could make a difference Sometimes a particular candidate’s positions either turn on or turn off Jewish sensibilities. And sometimes close races are significant in terms of who would control Congress.

Among the key Senate races being monitored by Jewish political junkies:

• The New York race features Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Democrat, versus Rick Lazio, a Republican.

This race, which has garnered national attention from the outset, is close and likely to stay that way until Election Day. Analysts say the Jewish vote, which constitutes about 10 percent of the electorate, could be a major factor in the outcome. Both candidates are doing their best to gain ground in the Jewish community. But Clinton, the first lady, still carries baggage from her controversial kiss last year of Suha Arafat, the wife of the Palestinian Authority president; and Lazio, the U.S. representative from New York, was not well-known among Jewish voters until now.

• The Michigan race pits incumbent Spencer Abraham, a Republican, against Debbie Stabenow, the Democrat.

Abraham, the only Arab American senator, was one of only two senators not to sign on to a recent letter to President Clinton condemning Yasser Arafat for failing to stop the violence. He has run what some call a lackluster campaign while two-term U.S. representative Stabenow is attracting voters with her support for a patient’s bill of rights and lower prescription drugs. Michigan, a swing state in the presidential race, has more than 100,000 Jews and more than 300,000 Arab Americans.

• In Nevada, an open Democratic seat is being contested by Ed Bernstein, a Democrat, and John Ensign, a Republican.

Bernstein, a well-known Jewish trial attorney, was down more than 30 points but recently pulled within four points of his opponent. Bernstein, a liberal raised in a lower-middle class Jewish family, is attacking Ensign’s pro-life stance, but Nevada is a conservative state, so how that strategy will play out remains to be seen.

• In New Jersey, Jon Corzine, a Democrat, is competing against Bob Franks, a Republican, for the seat to replace the retiring Frank Lautenberg, a Jewish Democrat venerated by the Jewish community. Franks recently introduced a resolution admonishing the United States for not voting against the U.N. resolution that condemned Israel for the recent violence in the Middle East.

In the House of Representatives, key races to watch include:

• In Florida’s 22nd District, incumbent Republican Clay Shaw is trying to stave off a challenge from Elaine Bloom, a Jewish Democrat.

Shaw, a 20-year incumbent, is known for his work on welfare reform and he chairs the powerful Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security. Bloom, a Jewish grandmother, might appeal to the more than 100,000 Jews in the South Florida district. Bloom charges that Shaw voted to cut education spending and funding for Medicare.

• In Illinois’ 10th District, Lauren Beth Gash, a Jewish Democrat, is up against Mark Kirk, a Republican, for the seat of retiring Rep. John Porter. Gash is trying to appeal to the some 50,000 Jews in the North Shore area, near Chicago, where their vote could make a difference. Kirk says he has been to the Middle East many times to meet with the region’s leaders.

• In Virginia’s 7th District, Eric Cantor, a Jewish Republican, is heavily favored to beat Warren Stewart, a Democrat, to take over the seat of 10-term retiring Republican Rep. Thomas Bliley, Jr. Cantor, a real estate executive, would become the second Jewish Republican in the House (the other is veteran New York lawmaker Benjamin Gilman). Running against the conservative GOP candidate is the liberal Stewart, who is pushing gun control and a patient’s bill of rights, among other hot-button issues.

• In Colorado’s 6th District, Ken Toltz, a Jewish Democrat, is vying against Republican incumbent Tom Tancredo.

Toltz, a businessman, is considered the underdog, but Tancredo’s conservatism may give him problems as gun control has become a major issue in this campaign. The district includes the town of Columbine, the scene last year of one of the worst school shootings in the United States.

• In New Jersey’s 3rd District, Susan Bass Levin, a Jewish Democrat, is running against Jim Saxton, a 16- year Republican incumbent. Levin, the popular Jewish mayor of Cherry Hill, is running an effective campaign, say observers, and might succeed in getting the support of the district’s some 30,000 Jews.

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