US midterm elections: Will the Jewish vote play a role?

US POLITICAL AFFAIRS: The results could be a bellwether of Biden’s chances of reelection in 2024 and the possible reemergence of former president Donald Trump into the mix.

 A RALLY on Tuesday in Miami Gardens, Florida, for the Democratic Party’s senatorial candidate Val Demings and gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist. (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
A RALLY on Tuesday in Miami Gardens, Florida, for the Democratic Party’s senatorial candidate Val Demings and gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist.

WASHINGTON – The general elections in Israel are over, but in the US, the midterm elections are well under way: On Tuesday, voters will cast their ballots in 435 congressional races, 34 Senate races, and 36 gubernatorial races.

President Joe Biden hopes that Democrats can control both chambers of Congress, allowing him to promote his legislative agenda, including codifying Roe v. Wade into law. However, recent polling as well as historical data suggest that Republicans are poised to win at least the House of Representatives, with a good chance to win the Senate as well.

The high inflation, rising interest rates and slowing economy, together with a spike in crime in major US cities are all factors that could drive Republican turnout. Biden’s latest approval ratings were at 40%, a relatively low number historically, after 652 days in office. On the other hand, issues such as abortion rights and US Democratic values could drive Democratic turnout, which could result in a high voting rate on both sides.

The results could be a bellwether of Biden’s chances of reelection in 2024 and the possible reemergence of former president Donald Trump into the mix.

Former US President Donald Trump speaks during a rally ahead of the midterm elections, in Mesa, Arizona, US, October 9, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/BRIAN SNYDER)Former US President Donald Trump speaks during a rally ahead of the midterm elections, in Mesa, Arizona, US, October 9, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/BRIAN SNYDER)

“Americans love change, and they almost always vote against the party in power,” said Logan Phillips, editor-in-chief at RacetotheWH, an interactive forecasts website that provides polling and predictions for every major Senate and governor race up in 2022.

“There’s a few exceptions in recent history, but not too many,” he said. One was after 9/11. “There was a big ‘rally around the flag’ moment. The other one was after Republicans tried to impeach [president Bill] Clinton and the American people didn’t agree with that and thought they overreached, and they paid for it.”

Recent polls indicate that Republicans have gained momentum and they’re likely to win the House and win the overall popular vote, Phillips said. “Although now it’s close enough that I wouldn’t be shocked if Democrats won it. But history suggests it’s the most likely result,” he said. “Republicans are clear favorites. But given how motivated some Democrats are focusing on the midterms, I wouldn’t rule it out.”

Looking at the Senate, Phillips noted that the races that will determine the majority are in Nevada, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Georgia, to name a few.

“The race where I think Democrats are most in danger of losing is Nevada,” he said. “There is a misconception among many on the Democratic side that Nevada is a blue state. It actually voted a little bit more for Republicans in the last few elections than the national popular vote. In 2020, it voted for Democrats by 2% when Biden won by about 4.4% nationally. That means the Republicans have a good shot there.”

On the other hand, he said he believes that Democratic nominee John Fetterman is still the favorite to win Pennsylvania, despite a weak debate performance following a stroke he suffered.

“I would say the polling is fairly accurate; it’ll probably be fifty-fifty,” Phillips said.

That would mean that Democrats will control the chamber, as Vice President Kamala Harris could cast a tie-breaking vote. “If polling is consistent and [Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine] Cortez Masto has a good day, Dems could gain one seat,” he continued. “But if there’s a slight polling error, Republicans could be in play for winning a sweep of Arizona, Georgia and Nevada and Pennsylvania, which put them at 53.”

The Jewish vote

For Jewish voters, these elections are coming amid a major spike in antisemitic incidents across the US. Tevi Troy, former White House aide and author of Fight House: Rivalries in the White House, from Truman to Trump,” said that “Jewish voters are like all voters: They care about crime, inflation and the economy.

“They may have a special sensitivity to the crime issue given the antisemitic attacks against Jews in the last few years, especially in the New York area,” he added.

What are the trends? Is there any shift in the Jewish vote, one way or the other?

“The Jewish vote has been pretty consistently around 70% Democrat in most presidential elections over the last few decades.

“However, there are sometimes shifts in midterm or off-year elections, especially ones in which there is a red wave or movement towards Republicans. Chris Christie got 38% of the Jewish vote in his first run for governor, which helped lead him to victory.

“The Jewish vote doesn’t usually show up clearly in preelection polling, because the population is so small; so it’s hard to know in advance how they will vote this year. We usually have to wait for the postelection exit polls to see what happened.”

What races are specifically important for Jewish voters?

“There is a lot of interest in the Jewish community on the Lee Zeldin-Kathy Hochul [gubernatorial] race in New York state. Zeldin is Jewish, and New York, of course, has the largest Jewish population in the nation. While it is a heavily Democratic state, Zeldin is making a strong run at Hochul, who has shown herself to be a weak candidate.”

He went on to say that the Jewish vote is always extremely important in New York, given how many Jews live there, but a number of key Senate races are also taking place in states with significant Jewish populations.

“The Jewish vote could have a real impact on the key Senate races in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia, Arizona, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The elections in states will determine who controls the Senate after this election,” said Troy.

If Republicans win, and we will have a Blue White House and a Red Congress, what does a divided government means for Jewish voters?

“I wouldn’t expect a lot of legislation to pass in the next two years, especially if we have a divided government. That said, Republican wins could help make sure that the US stays strongly allied with Israel, and that Democrats back off from the ‘soft on crime’ policies that make Jews in particular vulnerable to antisemitic attacks.”

What Jewish groups are doing

It was a rocky year for advocacy groups in Washington. Last December, AIPAC surprised many when it announced it would establish two new PACs that would allow the pro-Israel lobby to directly fund political campaigns.

That was a major shift after 70 years in which AIPAC avoided entering the campaign arena, which enabled it to balance relationships with both sides of the aisle.

The move sparked an immediate debate between those who said it was the only way for AIPAC to remain influential in a hyper-partisan Washington, and those who said it would force the group to choose sides in races between Republicans and Democrats, which would harm its bipartisan nature.

Thus, for the first time, AIPAC PAC and J Street PAC supported candidates who ran against each other in the Democratic primary. These were contentious races between the two groups, which traded barbs and condemned each other’s tactics. After a victory for AIPAC in Michigan’s 11th District, the group was quick to celebrate a “major victory for pro-Israel candidate,” while J Street decried AIPAC’s “overwhelming spending,” charging that the group “hopes to send an intimidating message to others – Cross our redlines, and you could be next.”

Other Jewish groups, such as the Jewish Democratic Council of America and the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), are also spending heavily in this cycle, including on TV ads in key battleground states, “get out the vote” efforts, phone banking and door knocking.

Halie Soifer, CEO of JDCA, said that according to recent polling, “the top two policy priorities for Jewish voters are the future of democracy and abortion access, and both issues have made a majority of Jewish voters more motivated to vote in the midterm elections.

“In addition, 92% of Jewish Americans are concerned about the rise of antisemitism, and a majority trust Democrats more than Republicans to combat it,” she said. “For these reasons and more, we have no doubt that Jewish voters will overwhelmingly support Democrats in the midterms, and their support in key states – such as Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada – will help Democrats maintain and possibly expand their Senate majority.

“In 2022, Jewish Americans see the GOP for what it is – a party dominated by right-wing extremists who threaten our democracy, values, security and rights,” Soifer said.

Sam Markstein, RJC national political director, said on the other hand that in this last week before Election Day, “RJC will continue working hard to turn out the Jewish vote in support of the GOP in key battleground states so we can get our country back on track and fight back against the disastrous Biden-Schumer-Pelosi agenda.

“RJC has spent months identifying and persuading Jewish voters in key battleground states, utilizing the most sophisticated and cutting-edge data operation in Jewish politics, to support GOP candidates that will determine the balance of power in the US Senate and House of Representatives,” he said.

“From Pennsylvania to Georgia, from Nevada to Florida, the trajectories in this election are absolutely clear: In the key races, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Herschel Walker, Adam Laxalt and Sen. Marco Rubio have all the momentum. That’s because they’re focused on the issues that matter to Jewish voters: reducing the skyrocketing costs of living, combating rising crime in our communities, securing the border, supporting school choice, strengthening the US-Israel relationship, and standing shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish community in the fight against antisemitism.”•