With Frank Lautenberg’s triumphant return to the Capitol and Norm Coleman’s victory in Minnesota, the Senate’s Jewish minyan is safe for the next two years — and even a little more crowded.
In the House of Representatives, one new Jewish face emerged after Tuesday’s national elections — Rahm Emanuel, the former Clinton adviser.
Overall, the Jewish presence in Congress stayed almost the same, with 11 senators and 26 representatives. The 107th Congress had 10 senators and 27 representatives, but one senator and one representative died in office.
In Tuesday’s election, four Jewish candidates were vying for seats in the Senate, 36 for seats in the House of Representatives and two for their states’ governor’s mansions, both of whom were successful.
When it woke Wednesday morning, the nation — which voted for 36 governors, all 435 members of the House of Representatives and 34 members of the Senate — learned that the Republicans had gained full control of Congress.
With a faltering economy, a war brewing with Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict roiling the Middle East, Congress’ leadership and approach after these elections will be significant.
The Republican victory in the Senate — the GOP also solidified its previous control of the House — could affect domestic issues that are important to the Jewish community.
Parts of the Bush administration’s agenda, such as the faith-based initiative, which calls for opening up more funding to religious groups to provide social services, might be advanced. Congress has moved slowly on the initiative, pushing the White House to pursue change through means other than legislation.
In the race for the Senate, venerated Jewish lawmaker Lautenberg, a Democrat, beat his Republican opponent, Doug Forrester, in New Jersey. Lautenberg, a former chairman of the United Jewish Appeal who retired from the Senate in 2000, stepped into the race in October to replace the incumbent, Sen. Robert Torricelli, who quit following charges of ethics violations.
In addition to his support for Israel and his strong Jewish communal connections, Lautenberg is well-known for his work in assisting immigrants, resulting in a 1990 measure that required immigration officials to take into account historical persecution when judging an applicant’s refugee status.
The Lautenberg Amendment, which is still in effect, allowed many Jews from the former Soviet Union — some 350,000 to 400,000 by the senator’s count — to gain entry to the United States without having to prove they were persecuted.
According to a New Jersey Jewish News exit poll conducted by Zogby International, the state’s 450,000-strong Jewish community contributed significantly to Lautenberg’s victory. Results showed that 79.7 percent of the Jews who voted — and 83.8 percent of Jewish women voters — chose Lautenberg.
The fourth Jewish candidate for Senate, Idaho’s Alan Blinken, lost to the Republican incumbent, Sen. Larry Craig.
The victories by Levin and Lautenberg, announced Tuesday evening, ensured that there would still be a “minyan” in the Senate.
On Wednesday morning, as results from Minnesota were finalized, it became clear that the minyan would grow: Coleman defeated former vice president Walter Mondale, who entered the race following the sudden death of Sen. Paul Wellstone on Oct. 25.
Mondale was seen as the candidate whose positions would resonate more with Jewish voters, especially on domestic issues. But Coleman, the former mayor of St. Paul, also presented strongly pro-Israel positions during the campaign.
In a race that Jewish political junkies followed closely, Rep. John Sununu beat Gov. Jeanne Shaheen for the Senate seat in New Hampshire. Shaheen had 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. He also has voted for aid to Israel, however, and has returned campaign contributions from Arab donors who backed Hamas.
Even with Republicans in control of the Senate, some political analysts do not foresee dramatic changes, as the party’s margin will be narrow.
Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report, believes the Republican agenda has been thin, focusing mostly on tax cuts, and the GOP now will look for other administration messages to push.
The main difference will be more of a “psychological factor” now that Republicans can dictate the flow of legislation, Rothenberg said.
The Republican victory also will influence how Jewish organizations press their issues, according to David Zwiebel, executive vice president for government and public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, a fervently Orthodox group.
An example is special education: With Republicans at the helm in the Senate, Zwiebel said his group might press for a voucher system to help children with special needs in private schools, Zwiebel said.
Reva Price, Washington representative for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, offered a similar analysis, without delving into specific issues.
“The tactics might be different, but the agenda remains the same,” she said.
Gilman voted to increase aid to Israel over the years, worked on behalf of Israeli soldiers missing in action and addressed many other areas of Jewish interest. His strongly pro-Israel positions earned him praise from Jewish groups.
With Gilman’s departure, Cantor, who won re-election, becomes the lone Jewish Republican in the House.
Cantor has taken hawkish positions in support of Israel, co-sponsoring legislation that would cut off all U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority and another bill calling for an end to aid to the Palestinians until they stop unauthorized excavations on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Cantor’s domestic positions — he is pro-life and co-sponsored a bill to permit churches and other houses of worship to engage in political campaigns — are at odds with the majority of American Jews.
In the House, former Clinton adviser Rahm Emanuel defeated Mark Augusti for the open seat in Illinois’ 5th District.
All Jewish incumbents up for re-election Tuesday retained their seats.
In California’s 27th District, Democratic incumbent Brad Sherman easily won the only “Jew vs. Jew” race in the House, beating Republican challenger Robert Levy, a family law attorney and past president of his synagogue’s Men’s Club.
The seven other California Jews in the House, all Democrats, cruised to comfortable victories despite running in redrawn districts.
In the San Francisco area, Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor serving in Congress and a strong pro-Israel voice, easily defeated two opponents with pronounced pro-Palestinian views, Republican Michael Moloney and Libertarian Maad Abu-Ghazalah. The latter is a native of the West Bank and a former president of the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee.
In the Los Angeles area and Southern California, incumbents Howard Berman, Susan Davis, Bob Filner, Jane Harman, Adam Schiff and Henry Waxman all retained their seats.
Several new Jewish candidates failed to win congressional seats. Among them:
Harry Jacobs, an attorney and past president of the Orlando Jewish federation, lost to Tom Feeney in Florida’s 24th District.
Jan Schneider lost to Katherine Harris, the former Florida state secretary, in Florida’s 13th District.
Roger Kahn, a businessman active in Atlanta’s Jewish community and former president of a Jewish nursing home in the Atlanta area, lost to a state senator, Phil Gingrey, in Georgia’s new 11th District.
Democrat David Fink could not pull off a win in Michigan’s 9th District, losing to incumbent Joe Knollenberg. Fink is pro-Israel, but had said domestic issues would decide his race.
There also are two new Jewish governors: Democrat Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania and Republican Linda Lingle of Hawaii.
Rendell stirred up controversy several weeks before the election when he told a reporter in Allentown, Pa., that his father had thought all religious Jews were crooks. But his father also taught him to try to help Jews in every way he could, Rendell said.
Rendell’s bluntness didn’t appear to hurt him, as he cruised to victory over state Attorney General Mike Fisher. Rendell was expected to receive a hefty share of the Jewish vote.
In Hawaii, Lingle defeated Mazie Hirono. A moderate Republican who is pro-choice and against prayer in schools, Lingle thinks she will relate well to the Jewish community and to a lot of Democrats.
“I can’t think of anything we’d be differing on,” she told JTA in an interview earlier this year.
Lingle, 49, is a member of a Jewish congregation on the island of Maui and attends Lubavitch services in Honolulu on Oahu.
Lingle has a pro-Israel stance and says her Jewish heritage has given her a better understanding of diversity, helping her political career in Hawaii.
In Alabama’s gubernatorial race, Democratic incumbent Don Siegelman claimed a narrow victory over Rep. Bob Riley for a second term, though state Republicans disputed the result.
Siegelman is Catholic but his wife, Lori, is the first Jewish first lady in Alabama’s history. Their son celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at Montgomery’s Conservative congregation last year.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.