Cynthia McKinney is one step closer to returning to Congress. The former Georgia lawmaker, who has been targeted by Jewish donors in the past because she is perceived as anti-Israel, surprised many by avoiding a runoff and winning outright Tuesday’s six-person Democratic primary for her old seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Jewish donors, concerned about McKinney’s re-emergence, had anticipated backing McKinney’s opponent in a runoff next month, but now are faced with the likelihood that McKinney will return to Washington after winning in November in a heavily Democratic district.
McKinney, who represented the 4th congressional district for 10 years before losing to Denise Majette in the primary two years ago, received 51 percent of the vote Tuesday.
Liane Levetan, a Jewish state senator, received 21 percent, and Cathy Woolard, a former Atlanta city council president, garnered 19 percent.
McKinney, Georgia’s f! irst black congresswoman, will face Republican Catherine Davis, who also is black, in November.
The resurrection of McKinney’s career comes as a surprise to many Jewish donors, who spent time and money to defeat her two years ago after a controversial tenure in Congress. McKinney had consistently angered many Jews because of her anti-Israel comments and vocal opposition to votes supporting Israel’s right to self-defense.
Though much was made of the Jewish community’s role in McKinney’s primary defeat in 2002, Jews had not been particularly active so far this year in trying to prevent her return to Congress.
Jewish donors were caught off guard in March when Majette announced she would seek the state’s open Senate seat rather than run for re-election in the House.
The announcement came just days after McKinney made clear she would try to reclaim her old seat, and Majette was seen as having the best chance to keep McKinney from returning to Congress.
Majette! ‘s 2002 victory over McKinney was credited in large part to out-of-sta te Jewish support, though there was apparently discontent from local voters over her performance as well.
But Jewish donors were not watching this primary race very closely or donating to McKinney’s opponents in great numbers.
Analysts said this year’s race was a conundrum for Jewish donors. There was some fear that aiding Levetan would be seen as a blatant attempt to force a race between a Jew and a black woman. Yet aiding another challenger wasn’t a viable option because Levetan is popular in the local Jewish community.
Fund raisers also said the Jewish community largely has turned its attention to the presidential race, relegating congressional battles to a back seat.
It’s unclear how much money will go from Jewish coffers to Davis now that she is taking on McKinney.
Morris Amitay, a Washington pro-Israel lobbyist, suggested that support for Israel in Congress was now at levels that made containing McKinney less urgent than it was previously.
"I don’t! think anyone is wearing sack cloth and ashes, the last test of support was 427-9," he said, referring to a recent House vote supporting Israel’s plan to disengage from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.
Supporting her Republican opponent, he said, would be a "waste of money" in such a strongly Democratic seat.
In addition, analysts say McKinney worked hard in this primary to avoid hot topics that have gotten her in trouble in the past with both Jewish and non-Jewish voters. In addition, her anti-Bush rhetoric played much better this time around.
Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, McKinney asked a Saudi prince for a $10 million donation he had pledged for disaster relief. New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had rejected the money because the prince suggested U.S. support for Israel provoked the attacks.
McKinney also suggested that President Bush knew of the terrorist plot to attack the World Trade Center, but didn’t prevent it bec! ause he wanted a pretext for war. Some voters said recent information about faulty intelligence validated McKinney’s views.
McKinney has enjoyed strong support from the Arab and Muslim community, which views her as a prime backer of a Palestinian state. A review of her Federal Election Commission filings shows a slew of Arab surnames, and she received $1,000 from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
Levetan received $5,000 from the pro-Israel Hudson Valley Political Action Committee.
Some Jewish leaders hope McKinney’s changed demeanor on the campaign trail will carry through to Washington if she wins in November.
If not, analysts said, there’s always the chance to target her again — in 2006.
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.