How key US Senate races are shaping up for Israel

A number of important US Senate races are also up for grabs, and they could have a huge impact on the Jewish community in general and Israel specifically.

November 9, 2016 03:55
4 minute read.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio

Florida Senator Marco Rubio. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The 2016 Presidential election featuring Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump is dominating Tuesday's news coverage.

But a number of important US Senate races are also up for grabs, and they could have a huge impact on the Jewish community in general and Israel specifically.

Illinois: Rep. Tammy Duckworth, Democrat defeats incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk, Republican.

Duckworth, who was declared the winner of Tuesday's US Senate contest for the state of Illinois, is backed by J Street and has been an enthusiastic backer of Iranian nuclear agreement signed by world powers and the Islamic Republic last year.

Kirk, first as a congressman and since winning President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat in 2010, took a lead role in shaping the sanctions that forced Iran to the talks table on curtailing its nuclear ambitions. He has been among the most strident critics of the deal exchanging sanctions relief for a nuclear rollback since it was reached last year. Kirk has accused the Obama administration of giving Iran a pass on parts of the agreement, which administration spokespeople vehemently deny.

With his lose Tuesday, the Israeli government loses a vocal ally.

Florida: Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican, defeats Rep. Patrick Murphy, Democrat

Rubio, a presidential hopeful in 2016, made clear he wanted out of the Senate until the party pressured him to reconsider when it appeared it could lose the state — a turnabout Murphy has used against him.

His return to politics restores the prospect of a presidential run – and that’s music to the ears of right-wing pro-Israel activists for whom Rubio is a favorite son. He is fluent on Israel and the threats it faces, and has backed an array of pro-Israel initiatives in Congress. Most recently, he would not sign on to a letter circulated by AIPAC calling on Obama to refrain from lame duck pressure on Israel because it explicitly called for a two-state solution, a position that the right-wing pro-Israel community has been pressuring the Republicans to play down.

Missouri: Sen. Roy Blunt, Republican, defeats Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, Democrat 

Kander is Jewish – bizarrely, he’s not the only youthful Jewish vet running for statewide office in Missouri as an outsider challenging the system. Eric Greitens, 42, a Republican former Navy SEAL who defeated insiders in a grueling primary, is facing Chris Koster, the Democratic state attorney general, in the race for governor. That race is neck and neck. (Kander served in Afghanistan, Greitens in Iraq.) Kander enjoys unusually impressive yichus for a Missouri pol – his great uncle, John Kander, who has said they are “very close,” is half of the legendary Kander and Ebb Broadway songwriting team behind “Cabaret” and “Chicago.” With Feingold, he has a shot at keeping Jewish Democratic representation at nine or even increasing it to 10.

Kander also holds the minority view within his party on the Iran nuclear deal – he doesn’t think it’s working out, he recently told Jewish Insider. However, he’s also of the “what’s done is done” school and, unlike Republicans who want dismantle it, Kander wants to see its restrictions rigorously applied. His election would shore up hawkish pro-Israel Democrats within a party that has been at odds in recent years with Israel’s government and the centrist and right-wing pro-Israel community. That’s important to groups like AIPAC that until recently have relied on Jewish lawmakers to pitch a hawkish posture on Israel. That’s key, and it’s why J Street has been energetic in cultivating Jewish lawmakers — Congress tends to defer to its members belonging to the ethnicity/religion/gender/race/regional group most affected by an issue.

Blunt has been close to the pro-Israel community for decades; as House leader he led trips to Israel for GOP freshmen. He also has been out front in introducing pro-Israel legislation and has been a constant at Republican Jewish Coalition events. His second wife, Abigail Perlman, is Jewish.

Pennsylvania: Sen. Pat Toomey, Republican, defeats Katie McGinty, Democrat

Toomeny, backed by the Republican Jewish Coalition who spent 500,000 dollars backing him, is a vocal friend of Israel. He has visited the Jewish state in the past, and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Toomey has said he supports "the strongest possible sanctions on Iran." The senator also supports moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, co-sponsoring a bill that would do so, and he has called for the US to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Katie McGinty was backed by J Street. McGinty has called Israel and America's relationship "reciprocal and vital for both states," saying that America's security was dependent on key allies such as Israel. She was a vocal supporter of the Iran deal.

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