Cantor to be highest-ranked Jewish House member ever

Exit polls indicate that Jewish support for Democratic candidates has slipped to some of its lowest levels in years.

November 4, 2010 01:31
2 minute read.
Virgina Congressman Eric Cantor (R)

465_ Eric Cantor. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)


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WASHINGTON – Following Tuesday’s Republican sweep, US Rep. Eric Cantor is on track to become House Majority Leader, the highest-ranking position ever held by a Jewish member of Congress.

The Virginia Republican currently serves as the House minority whip, placing him in line to become Majority Leader after an upcoming leadership race expected to put Ohio Republican John Boehner in the speaker’s seat.

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Despite suffering heavy losses, the Democrats will also have a few new Jewish faces come January, including Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal and David Cicilline of Rhode Island; the latter will become the third openly gay Jewish member of the House.

Still, the number of Jewish members of Congress is set to decrease slightly as Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold lost his Senate seat and New Hampshire Rep. Paul Hodes, his Senate bid. Florida Representatives Ron Klein and Alan Grayson were also knocked out, along with Rep. John Adler of New Jersey and Rep. Steve Kagen of Wisconsin. But California Senator Barbara Boxer and Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords fought off tough challenges leaving around 10 percent of the 535- member chambers Jewish.

Exit polls indicated that Jewish support for Democratic candidates has slipped to some of its lowest levels in years.

According to a poll conducted by the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” J Street lobby, American Jews backed Democrats over Republicans by a 66-31 margin.

That number is significantly higher than for all Americans – who preferred Republicans to Democrats 54-43 – but the 31% does represent one of the larger totals for Republicans in recent polling history. This, according to Republican Jewish Coalition numbers which said the average support for GOP candidates in mid-term elections is 24%, but has ranged from 18% to 30%.

“We are encouraged by the Republicans’ strong showing and the continued inroads being made,” the organization said in a statement. “While the Jews remain a loyal Democratic constituency, that loyalty is weakening.”

“For Democrats, getting just 66% of the Jewish vote is deeply distressing, and it will be increasingly difficult for Democrats to win if we alienate a core constituency, one which is critical not just at the ballot box, but in helping candidates get the support they need to run effective campaigns,” said Josh Block, former AIPAC spokesman and Clinton administration official. Block recently launched a strategic consulting firm.

But Democratic pollster Jim Gerstein, who carried out the survey for J Street, said that the numbers didn’t show “much of an impact” and were still “very strong” in the face of a difficult year for Democrats.

“It stands to reason that the Congressional vote would be lower than 2008 because of the Obama wave. He just struck a chord at a moment,” he said. “Now we are in a completely different political environment that swept across the country and affected all constituents.”

University of Florida political scientist Ken Wald said the key numbers were how Jews compared to the nation as a whole, and noted that Jewish voters, like Americans generally, were most concerned about the struggling economy.

“Jews remain pro-Democratic outliers,” he said.

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