America: Anyone for a tea party?

This week’s positive showing for Democrats in congressional primaries has the party less pessimistic about the November election.

Cicilline 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Cicilline 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
WASHINGTON – All the Jewish Democratic incumbents in Congress held on to their seats in primaries Tuesday, with two Jewish candidates – Paul Hodes of New Hampshire and David Cicilline of Rhode Island – winning contests that could allow them to garner seats on Election Day in November.
Plus Steve Grossman, former American Israel Public Affairs Committee president, won the Democratic slot for Massachusetts state treasurer, putting him in a good position to win the statewide office.
“It’s a beautiful day,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a Jewish Democratic strategist, the morning after the primary results came in.
But he and other Jewish Democratic activists weren’t just pleased by who had won in his own party.
He was also thrilled that in several Republican races, outsider candidates backed by the “tea party” movement had succeeded in knocking off well-established Republican contenders. Democrats who until now have been pessimistic about November are seeing the results as cause for hope.
The biggest upset was had by former abstinence counselor Christine O’Donnell, who brushed aside nine-term US Representative Michael Castle in Delaware for the Senate race. In New York, longtime politician Rick Lazio was defeated by Carl Paladino in the race for governor. Even the win of the partyfavored Kelly Ayotte for a New Hampshire Senate seat squeaked by with an endorsement by Sarah Palin, a tea party favorite.
“It’s all tea-partiers taking over the party from moderate Republicans,” Rabinowitz declared. “What few Republican Jews there are won’t vote for them.”
“This significantly helps Democratic prospects in November,” said National Jewish Democratic Council president David Harris agreed.
Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, would differ with the assessment that there are only a few Republican Jews and that they won’t be backing any tea party candidates. Some establishment Republicans did prevail Tuesday or in earlier primaries, and some newcomers emphasize a fiscal conservatism that suits many Jewish Republicans. Brooks was also pleased by the primary win of Jewish candidate Randy Altschuler for a New York seat in the US House.
But Brooks did admit that at least in Delaware, the likelihood of Jews – and the general public – voting Republican has now diminished.
“The message is really anti-establishment.
There’s a lot of anti-establishment sentiment out there, and the visible face of that is the tea party, but it extends beyond that,” he said. “O’Donnell in Delaware is very far outside the mainstream and I don’t think is representative.”
But Kenneth Wald, a political science professor at the University of Florida who is also affiliated with its Center for Jewish Studies, assessed that this week’s results would not help the GOP woo Jews.
“The tea party candidates will drive away a lot of the Jews, and not just the Democrats,” he said. “Such candidates really repel Jews in a fundamental way because they define American as a Christian country and that leaves Jews out.”
He also described tea party activists as generally supportive of a muscular US military but opposed to foreign aid on economic grounds.
Brooks rejected the notion that the tea party was filled with social conservatives, as it has focused primarily on economic issues. He also said that support for aid to Israel remained strong among the group, and suggested it was too small a budget item to be at real risk.
Still, the perception that the tea party candidates are extreme could alienate voters. And Wald predicted that what would turn off Jews would also turn off moderate Republicans. The president’s party reliably looses seats in a midterm election and the country’s economic woes have been moving voters away from the Democratic Party.
But Wald warned that these outsider candidates could “squander” many seats likely to have gone Republican, conceivable keeping one or both legislative chambers from turning over.
Rabinowitz pointed out that many of the moderate Republicans booted out by the tea party are also contemplating independent bids.
Those that pursue such a path will likely split the vote, which could also give a boost to Democrats on Election Day.
“If you’re a Democratic partisan it would be naïve not to be concerned about November,” Rabinowitz said. “It’s not good. I just feel a lot better about it then I did a few months ago.”
Click for full Jpost coverage of the US Midterm elections 2010
Click for full Jpost coverage of the US Midterm elections 2010