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The 2002 U.S. Elections in the Race for Governor, Two Jews Remain Standing

September 24, 2002
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In the end, there are two.

A U.S. election season that had shown promise as the “Year of the Jewish Governor” is winding down with only two Jews left standing in the race for their state’s highest office.

This political cycle began with seven Jewish gubernatorial candidates, vying in several of the 36 state races.

Now just two states have a good chance of seeing Jewish governors — Pennsylvania and Hawaii.

It remains to be seen if the number of Jewish candidates for governor this year heralds a new trend in Jewish involvement in state politics, or whether this is just an unusual year.

In Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, the former mayor of Philadelphia, beat back Robert Casey in May and is likely to win the open seat that was vacated when Tom Ridge stepped down to head the Department of Homeland Security.

Ridge’s replacement, Mark Schweiker, elected not to run.

Rendell is favored by Jewish voters and as of now has a double-digit lead over his opponent, State Attorney General Mike Fisher.

In Hawaii, Linda Lingle, a Republican, is the favorite for the open seat after handily winning the primary on Saturday.

She faces Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, who won the three-way Democratic primary but received fewer than half of the votes cast there.

Two Jewish governors might not sound dramatic, but only 17 Jews are believed to have served as any state’s governor since 1801 — though data for the early years is not precise.

If Rendell and Lingle prevail, they would be the first Jewish governors since 1994, when Bruce Sundlun served as governor of Rhode Island.

Rendell’s race should be seen as encouraging for other Jews who want to run statewide campaigns, said Jason Silberberg, political director for the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Lingle would become only the second Jewish woman to serve as governor. Madeleine Kunin was Vermont’s governor from 1985 to 1991.

Lingle lost a previous bid for governor in 1998 by only 1 percent of the vote.

The governor’s seat has never attracted as many Jewish political aspirants as has Capitol Hill.

Many of today’s Jewish politicians have followed a well-worn political path by running for a congressional seat.

Jews from heavily Jewish areas often receive help from their Jewish constituencies, and it has become commonplace to see Jews in the U.S. House of Representatives and to maintain a “minyan,” at least 10, in the U.S. Senate.

Also, a number of Jews want to serve in positions where they could help Israel, experts believe, and Congress seems to be the best place.

But being the top dog of a state drew seven Jewish candidates this year, though most could not pull in enough votes or money.

In Oregon, Democrat Bev Stein ran strongly in a very competitive three-way race, but ultimately lost. If she had won she would have been favored to win the seat as the state is leaning to the Democratic side.

The Massachusetts primaries began with two Jewish candidates and ended with none.

Both Robert Reich, the secretary of labor under President Clinton, and Steve Grossman, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a former president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro- Israel lobby, lost in the fight for the Democratic nomination.

Grossman pulled out of the race in August, conceding he did not have the funds to continue. Grossman also did not have widespread name recognition in a crowded primary with a lot of big-name Democrats.

But even the bigger name, Reich, found the political climate wasn’t right for him either as he lost his primary last week to the state treasurer, Shannon O’Brien.

Longer shots proved to be too long as well.

Lois Frankel ran against former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno in Florida, but even the well-known Reno lost her chance this month to contend against Gov. Jeb Bush.

And in Nevada, Democrat Matthew Dushoff lost his attempt to unseat Gov. Kenny Guinn.

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