US Affairs: Who's good for the Jews?

A guide to the key races as America goes to the midterm polls.

Joe Lieberman 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Joe Lieberman 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Several Republican backers of Israel are in tough races for re-election this year, as they try to fight back against an American electorate that is trending Democratic. Voters will go to the polls Tuesday to elect one-third of the Senate and all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, and supporters of Israel are looking at several incumbents who are facing tough challenges. At the same time, they are holding out hope that some incumbents who are seen as less than friends of the Jewish state may be voted out as well. While Congress is likely to remain strongly pro-Israel next year, questions remain as to who will be annunciating those policies. Control of both houses of Congress is seen as up for grabs, with the Democrats' chances in the House considered strong. Democrats need only 15 seats to win control. In the Senate, the power shift is much tighter, and each competitive seat is being closely watched. Among the most vulnerable incumbents is Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). Santorum - who has garnered strong marks for his defense of the Jewish state and international religious freedom - is the underdog for re-election, seen as too conservative for the Northeast state, which voted for Democratic candidate John Kerry for president two years ago. Santorum has been attacked by challenger Bob Casey, the Democratic state treasurer, for his conservative positions on domestic issues. The race has garnered national attention because Casey is conservative and opposes abortion rights. But he has attracted support from Democrats who are eager to see Santorum defeated. In the Jewish community, opinion is split. Many backers of Israel have raised funds for Santorum, while liberal groups have backed Casey, who has also been seen as supportive of Israel. Also in jeopardy is Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), facing a strong challenge from Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown, and James Talent (R-Mo.), in what has been a deadlocked race against Democratic state auditor Claire McCaskill. Both incumbents have received support from the Washington PAC, a pro-Israel political action committee run by former American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) executive director Morrie Amitay. Pro-Israel donors like Amitay often support incumbents, and choose challengers only when they go up against candidates with poor records on Israel. The race pitting Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) against former Navy Secretary James Webb has gotten more heated in recent months as well. Allen, once considered a Republican presidential contender, has had to fight a perceived negative reaction to reports that he has Jewish ancestry. Advocates for Israel are eager to see Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) defeated. Chafee, who is trailing in polls against former state attorney general Sheldon Whitehouse, is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs subcommittee. He has used the post to speak out against Israel's settlement policies. He has garnered some support, however, from Middle East doves. A rare Democratic senator in trouble is Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who was appointed to the post last year after a long tenure in the House of Representatives, which included leadership positions. Menendez is facing Thomas Kean, the son of the state's former governor, who received national praise for his leadership on the commission investigating the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Support has also been strong for Rep. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a Jewish lawmaker who is seeking a Senate seat, and Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.), who is in a tight race to replace Sen. Bill Frist, the retiring majority leader. One of the most talked about races is the one in Connecticut, which pits incumbent Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who lost the Democratic nomination for re-election, against both Democratic nominee Ned Lamont and Republican Alan Schlesinger. Lieberma, running as an independent, is an icon in the Jewish community, and while the seat is likely to remain Democratic if either the incumbent or Lamont wins, pro-Israel supporters have been actively helping Lieberman. Those include many Republicans, who see Lieberman as a better alternative to the more liberal Lamont. Amitay said he is disappointed one race isn't closer. Robert Byrd, whom he calls the senator with the worst record on Israel, is expected to easily win another term. He first joined the Senate in 1958. In the House, concerns have been raised about Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota who is likely to win next week and become the first Muslim ever elected to Congress. Ellison has historic ties to the Nation of Islam, and while he has reached out to local Jews to mend fences, some privately have raised concerns about where he stands on Middle East issues. The Jewish community has been raising money for Brad Ellsworth, the sheriff in Evansville, Ind., who is running against incumbent Rep. John Hostettler. The incumbent Republican has been known for voting against AIPAC positions, and has spoken often about the "war on Christianity" in the US. Support has also been strong for several Jewish candidates, including Ron Klein in Florida and Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona.