Adam Schiff, Jewish impeachment star with AIPAC backing, advances to Senate runoff in California to replace Dianne Feinstein


(JTA) — Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Jewish Democrat who has the backing of AIPAC,  advanced to the runoff for the U.S. Senate after Tuesday’s primary. 

But the Israel lobby appeared to score a loss in a closely watched California House race where it had spent more than $4 million opposing the winning  candidate.

And protesters interrupted Schiff’s victory speech on Tuesday night with cries of “Free Palestine” and “Ceasefire now.”

Together, the results in California underscore the limits of pro-Israel campaign finance, which often gets outsize attention in elections.

Schiff’s win is a boost for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s affiliated political action committee, AIPAC PAC, and other mainstream pro-Israel boosters. 

Schiff — who is running for the seat formerly held by Dianne Feinstein, the state’s longtime Jewish senator who died last year — is a star among Democrats for his lead role in impeaching former President Donald Trump, and he had the backing of much of the party’s California establishment, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the former speaker who continues to wield influence.

He will now face Steve Garvey, a Republican and onetime baseball star, in the November election in California’s “jungle primary” system, which requires all candidates regardless of party to compete in a single primary, and advances the two top winners to the general election.

But the win for AIPAC was dampened by an apparent loss in California’s 47th District, where a Democratic state senator, Dave Min, who attracted a barrage of negative campaigning funded by another PAC affiliated with AIPAC, will advance to face a Republican in the general election.

Schiff, who drew millions in AIPAC-affiliated money,  hewed closely to President Joe Biden’s robust support of Israel in its war with Hamas, not using the term “ceasefire” until recently, when he said he endorsed Biden’s plan for a six-week pause in the fighting

His top two Democratic rivals were tougher on Israel: Rep. Katie Porter called for a “bilateral” ceasefire contingent on the release of hostages still held by Hamas, but excoriated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for hindering humanitarian assistance to Gaza Palestinians. Rep. Barbara Lee called for an immediate and permanent ceasefire with no preconditions.

Min, a Korean American, was seen as a must-win among Asian-American Democrats. That constituency, which often aligns closely with the mainstream pro-Israel community, was baffled by the vehemence of AIPAC’s opposition to Min, who has barely mentioned Israel in his career, and lobbied unsuccessfully to get the pro-Israel powerhouse to back off, according to a Politico report.

Some speculated that Min’s position papers, which candidates routinely submit to pro-Israel lobbies, were not robust enough. Politico reported that J Street, the liberal Jewish Israel policy lobby reviled by AIPAC, had backed Min in the past. But a number of candidates, including Schiff, have accepted J Street’s endorsement without alienating AIPAC.

The AIPAC-affiliated Super PAC, United Democracy Project, focused its negative ads on a DUI charge Min got last year. Super PACs may spend unlimited amounts of money, and UDP spent more than $4 million trying to end Min’s bid.

Mainstream pro-Israel funding went to his Democratic rival, Joanna Weiss, a community organizer in the Orange County area district. With 60% of the vote counted, Min was well ahead of her and it appeared likely he will face Republican Scott Baugh in November.

The 47th District is open because its current congresswoman, Porter, mounted a Senate bid that ended Tuesday night.

UDP noted its role in helping Schiff win. “UDP gave $5 million to the pro-Schiff superpac Standing Strong — this will be public in the filings on March 20,” its spokesman, Patrick Dorton, said in an email.  “His win further demonstrates that being pro-Israel is good policy and good politics. Rep. Schiff’s strong support of the U.S.-Israel relationship reflects the views of the vast majority of Americans. UDP remains resolute in our determination to build the broadest possible pro-Israel coalition in Congress.”

Pro-Israel PACs scored a victory in Texas’ Houston-area 7th District on Tuesday, where incumbent Rep. Lizzie Fletcher trounced Pervez Agwan, who called for cutting off defense assistance to Israel.

“Rep. Lizzie Fletcher’s massive win over a well-funded opponent who made anti-Israelism a centerpiece of his campaign demonstrated that the audience for anti-Israel messaging is vanishingly small among Democrats,” said Rachel Rosen, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Majority for Israel, which had backed Fletcher.

In Texas’ Fort Worth-area 12th District, Craig Goldman, a Jewish Republican in the Texas House, advanced to a runoff against another Republican, John O’Shea. Goldman got 44% of the vote to O’Shea’s 26.5% but needed a majority of the vote to win. The district is solidly Republican, and if Goldman, a real estate businessman with longstanding involvement in the Republican Jewish Coalition, wins, he will likely be the third Jewish Republican in Congress.

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