Race narrows for Florida candidates who differ on Israel

Incumbent Marco Rubio getting support from RJC while Democratic challenger Murphy backed by J Street.

November 4, 2016 00:38
3 minute read.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio

Florida Senator Marco Rubio. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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WASHINGTON – Just over a month ago, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee pulled its spending from the Florida race. The nominee there, Rep. Patrick Murphy, was down by high single digits to the incumbent, Sen. Marco Rubio, who was just coming off a failed attempt for the Republican presidential nomination.

According to a knowledgeable Democrat, the DSCC felt there were eight races that were more winnable.

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However, with less than a week to go, one of the marquee match-ups between two candidates who both say they’re strong on Israel – but have been pinned by their diametric differences on the Iran deal – is in a dead heat, according to a CNN poll released on Wednesday.

The race reflects not only a seat up for grabs to potentially swing the Senate red or blue, but an important contest for Rubio: A potential 2020 presidential bid by the senator is more likely if he can keep his seat.

“Everybody would love to beat Marco Rubio,” a Democrat close to the senate race said.

Pro-Israel groups are split in their support for the candidates: The Republican Jewish Committee strongly supports Rubio, while J Street, the pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby, has been Murphy’s top-financial backer throughout the race.

Rubio staunchly rejected the nuclear deal with Iran and was one of the lead senators to write a rebuttal. He also co-authored a letter saying: “Recent UNESCO resolutions that deny Jewish and Christian ties to holy sites in Jerusalem not only reinforce the necessity of withholding American funding from this counterproductive UN organization, but also call into question future US membership in UNESCO.” The letter was sent to President Barack Obama.

“Obviously, he’s been a strong supporter of Israel,” said Martin Sweet, director of Jewish outreach for Rubio’s campaign.

“Growing up within the Cuban exile community and the connections between the Castro regime and Yasser Arafat, he’s always had this kind of mindset about Israel’s place in the world.

It’s been a fairly natural thing for him.”

Sweet noted that Rubio would maintain his support for Israel, regardless of who is president.

“Marco is running his own shop on this thing. I don’t see him remotely capitulating to any president on this kind of thing,” Sweet said.

“Whether that’s Israel or Syria, whether that’s the South China Sea or Venezuela,” he continued, “Marco’s own depth and breadth of knowledge, his understanding of conflict and his understanding of principals at stake – I think they’re unparalleled.

I don’t see him remotely deferring to any president.”

Murphy’s campaign has also noted its candidate’s devotion to Israel.

“As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Patrick knows how critical our relationship with Israel is to the national security of both countries.

He recognizes Israel as a partner with shared values of freedom, democracy and peace,” spokesperson Jason Rubin said in a statement for the Murphy campaign.

Similarly, NORPAC, a single-issue pro-Israel group supporting Rubio, notes that Murphy followed his party on the Iran deal.

“As far as I know, by in large nobody considers Murphy a terrible person or a terrible legislator, or terrible on [Israel]; it’s just that I think Sen. Rubio is a friendly incumbent,” NORPAC president Ben Chouake said. “He not only has a good record, but he has an outstanding record on our issue.”

Republican Jewish Coalition spokesperson Fred Brown said Murphy had gotten “radical, anti-Israel money” in support from J Street. He added that Rubio not only had been a strong supporter of Israel, but was very knowledgeable about the issues.

“Marco Rubio has been a real friend to Israel,” Brown said.

“He actually understands these issues. It’s very complicated in the Middle East.”

Murphy has been J Street’s candidate all the way. The goal of the organization, which does not make endorsements at the presidential level, is to unseat incumbents who opposed the Iran deal, like Sen. Mark Kirk (R) in Illinois and Sen. Ron Johnson (R) in Wisconsin.

“It’s very likely that come next Tuesday, when we look at the outcome of races across the country, we’ll see that almost every single incumbent supporter of this deal will have won despite the fact that they had folks sitting across from them in their offices saying, ‘You can support this deal, but it’s a political third-rail and this will be the end of your political career,’” J Street national political director Ben Shnider said.

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