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The 1990 Elections; in House Races, Pro-israel Pacs Mainly Siding with the Incumbents

November 2, 1990
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Despite strong anti-incumbent sentiment among voters this year, pro-Israel political action committees are counting on most members of the House of Representatives to be re-elected.

That is why, for the most part, they are throwing their support behind incumbents, whose re-election rate in the House has hovered around 98 percent in recent years.

But even if challengers succeed in pulling off upset victories in several races, the House is likely to remain a bastion of support for Israel.

Pro-Israel PACs have provided money to more than 175 incumbents this campaign cycle and to a few dozen challengers. But most challengers backed by the PACs lost their party primaries.

The biggest such defeat took place in Illinois, where Mel Reynolds lost in his bid to defeat Rep. Gus Savage in the Democratic primary.

Savage, infamous for campaign speeches in which he assails “Jewish money” and Jewish control of the media, was despised so much by the PACs that they gave Reynolds $26,300. Savage is considered a shoo-in in the general election.

Only one House incumbent was defeated in this year’s primaries: Rep. Donald “Buz” Lukens (R-Ohio), who resigned last week rather than face possible expulsion from the House on the basis of charges of sexual misconduct. Lukens lost after he was convicted of engaging in sex with a minor.


For the most part, the pro-Israel PACs are banking on incumbents even in those races where the challenger is Jewish.

In a race containing lots of rhetoric about who is more pro-Israel, Rep. Harry Johnston (D-Fla.) is being challenged by Scott Shore, an Orthodox Jewish Republican. Johnston has received $9,800 from several PACs, with Shore receiving $1,000, all from the Washington PAC.

Rep. Chuck Douglas (R-N.H.), a strong supporter of Israel, has received $4,000 from four PACs. His Democratic challenger, energy developer Dick Swett, received $1,750 from three PACs. Swett, who is Jewish, is a son-in-law of Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.).

Rep. George Sangmeister (D-Ill.) has received $3,350 from four PACs. His Republican challenger, City of Homewood Mayor Manny Hoffman, who is Jewish, received $250 from the Modrn PAC.

Another incumbent who faces a Jewish challenger is Rep. Peter Hoagland (D-Neb.), whose opponent is Republican Ally Milder. Hoagland has received $10,250 from seven pro-Israel PACs this election cycle, with Milder not receiving any funds. Hoagland won by 2,981 votes in 1988 against a different challenger, who had defeated Milder in the Republican primary.

Most of the challengers who have received pro-Israel PAC money are expected to lose. The challenger with the most support is former Oregon state Rep. Mike Kopetski, a Democrat who received $6,750 from nine PACs in a repeat of his 1988 race against Rep. Denny Smith (R-Ore.), which he lost by 707 votes.

There are much greater odds for those seeking the 29 seats where lawmakers are retiring or running for other offices. Pro-Israel PACs have.

Among them is New Jersey state Sen. Richard Zimmer, a Jewish Republican who received $2,750 from five PACs in his race against Democrat Marguerite Chandler. The seat is now held by Rep. Jim Courter, a Republican.


One race of note where no pro-Israel PAC money has been spent is in Vermont, where Rep. Peter Smith, a Republican, is being opposed by Democrat Dolores Sandoval and former Burlington Mayor Bernard Sanders, who is running as an independent. Sanders, a Jewish Socialist, lost to Smith by 8,911 votes in 1988.

Sanders and Zimmer of New Jersey appear to have the best chances at expanding the House’s Jewish membership, which now stands at 31.

Of the 31, all of whom are seeking reelection, Rep. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) received the most pro-Israel PAC money, totaling $24,350.

The next highest were Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), $18,700; Howard Wolpe (D-Mich.), $18,700; Steven Schiff (R-N.M.), $16,900; Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.); $16,250; John Miller (R-Wash.), $15,900; Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.), $15,250; Sidney Yates (D- III), $13,500; Lawrence Smith (D-Fla.), $13,417 and Mel Levine (D-Calif.), $10,929.

Engel, Schiff and Lowey are all completing their first terms, which makes them more vulnerable than longer-term incumbents.

Wolpe and Miller have had close races because their constituents tend to identify more with the other party. Yates, the dean of Jewish members of Congress, who is seeking his 21st term, this year faced his first competitive primary in recent memory.

Non-Jewish incumbents receiving the most such money were Reps. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), $22,950; David Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, $21,150; House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), $16,750; Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East $16,000; Les Aspin (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, $15,250; Wayne Owens (D-Utah), $15,100; and Peter Kostmayer (D-Pa.), $13,500.


Weber, secretary of the House Republican Conference, has taken over the mantle from former Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) as the leading House Republican in support of Israel. Kemp is now secretary of housing and urban development.

Notable members of Congress not receiving any pro-Israel PAC money are House Speaker Thomas Foley (D-Wash.); Rep. Jamie Whitten (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Appropriation Committee; and five of the top eight Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

By contrast, only three of the top 20 Democrats on the committee received no such PAC money: Reps. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.), Mervyn Dymally (D-Calif.) and George Crockett Jr. (D-Mich.), who is retiring. Dymally and Crockett have anti-Israel records, while Studds’ is considered mixed.

Rep. Charles Wilson (D-Texas) was the member of Obey’s powerful subcommittee not to receive pro-Israel PAC money.

With Crockett’s retirement, a whopping of the top 17 Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee will be Jews, should they all be re-elected, as is expected.

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