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Midterm Elections 2018

Post-midterms: Governor races see mixed results, pro-Israel candidate DeSantis wins Florida

At the state level, recent polls have shown that Jewish voters are more concerned with domestic issues, such as affordable health care, the economy, education, and social safety-net programs like Medicare and Social Security, than they are Israel.

Republican Ron DeSantis squares off in a Florida gubernatorial debate with Democrat Andrew Gillum. Credit: Screenshot.
Republican Ron DeSantis squares off in a Florida gubernatorial debate with Democrat Andrew Gillum. Credit: Screenshot.

Despite Democrats flipping seven seats in what turned out to be a head-turning competition among gubernatorial candidates, the Republicans are projected to hold the majority of governor mansions nationwide.

Many of the issues at the state level are predictably less concerned with foreign policy. In fact, recent polls have shown that Jewish voters are more concerned with domestic issues, such as affordable health care, the economy, education, and social safety-net programs like Medicare and Social Security, than they are Israel.

At the same time, issues related to Israel have come up on the state level with efforts to pass anti-BDS measures—approved by 25 states in recent years—and business and high-tech partnerships between individual states and Israel.

Below are the results of the races previously noted to watch for regarding the Jewish and pro-Israel community.

Note: Jewish population figures are from 2012, and according to the North American Jewish Data Bank by the Jewish Federations of North America. All results are projections from the Associated Press.


Jewish Population: 638,985 (3.4 percent of state population)

Result: Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis is projected to narrowly win over Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by 55,439 votes.

During the campaign, DeSantis promised he would be the “most pro-Israel governor in the country” and vowed that his first trip abroad as governor would be to the Jewish state.

DeSantis was one of the most ardent pro-Israel members of Congress. For one, the former congressman sought closure for American victims of Palestinian terrorism and has held the U.S. Department of Justice accountable for not prosecuting those responsible. He also backed the Taylor Force Act, enacted into law to prevent U.S. taxpayer funds from supporting the Palestinian Authority’s initiative rewarding terrorists and their families.

DeSantis has also supported President Donald Trump’s agenda on Israel, from withdrawing the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, both occurring in May.



Jewish Population: 297,935 (2.3 percent of state population)

Result: Democratic billionaire J.B. Pritzker is projected to unseat incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner, 54 percent to 39.3 percent, respectively.

Pritzker, whose net worth is approximately $3.5 billion, served as chairman of and led the fundraising behind the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, which opened in 2009. He and his wife’s foundation has given more than $2.7 million to the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago.

The wealthy Democrat, whose family owns the Hyatt hotel chain, opposed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. He has previously served on the board of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

During his tenure, Rauner signed anti-BDS legislation into law, prohibiting state pension funds from associating with companies that boycott the Jewish state. Also under his watch, Illinois allocated $500 million towards the Discovery Partners Institute, an interdisciplinary public-private research institute based in Chicago that made Tel Aviv University its first foreign academic partner.


Jewish Population: 238,200 (4.1 percent of state population) 

Result: Incumbent Republican Larry Hogan is projected to win re-election against former NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous, 56.2 percent to 42.8 percent, respectively.

Hogan signed an executive order last year prohibiting state contractors from supporting BDS.

During a trade mission, accompanied by the state’s academic and Jewish leaders, to Israel in 2016, Hogan said that there has been “a great relationship [between Maryland and Israel] for many years, and it’s going to get even stronger,” with $145 million in exports in 2015.

Jealous has extensively worked with anti-Israel activists such as Linda Sarsour and has given different answers as to whether he would overturn Hogan’s anti-BDS measure.

Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, labeled this development as “a tonal inconsistency,” even though the Jealous campaign said “he has no plans to rescind the executive order, so long as it is affirmed in court, because he believes the BDS movement is counterproductive to achieving peace.”


Jewish Population: 277,980 (4.1 percent of state population) 

Result: Incumbent Republican Charlie Baker, who has polled as the nation’s most popular governor, is projected to easily win re-election against Democrat Jay Gonzalez, 66.6 percent to 33.4 percent, respectively.

Baker went on a trade mission to Israel in December 2016—his first one in office. Four months earlier, he signed onto a letter circulated by the American Jewish Committee, along with 19 other governors, in opposition of BDS.

Gonzalez did not make any public statements related to Israel or BDS.

“Suffice to say that the Jewish community broadly and JCRC specifically have appreciated a warm and productive relationship with Governor Baker covering matters both where we have had alignment and disagreement,” Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, told JNS. “We look forward to having a productive relationship with whomever the voters of Massachusetts choose to serve our Commonwealth.”


Jewish Population: 82,270 (0.8 percent of state population) 

Result: Democrat Gretchen Whitmer is projected to win over Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette, 52.9 percent to 44.2 percent, respectively.

Whitmer recently came under fire for declining to comment on the BDS movement at a town-hall event in late August.

“I recognize the fundamental rights are that we have the right to speak,” she said in response to a question from an audience member on BDS, according to a recording of the event. “No one gets to infringe on those rights on my watch.”

She responded by attacking her opponent and by citing her support of the state’s anti-BDS legislation that became law in 2017, and if elected pledged to “do everything in my power to uphold it as Michigan’s next governor.”

She also mentioned proudly sponsoring to reaffirm the unbreakable partnership between Michigan and Israel. I believe that the BDS movement is an affront to that relationship, and I am 100 percent opposed to BDS.”

Additionally, Whitmer condemned pro-BDS University of Michigan professor John Cheney-Lippold, who denied a student a letter of recommendation last month for a semester-long study abroad program in Israel.

Her running mate, Garlin Gilchrist, posted anti-Israel tweets in 2009, supporting Hamas and accusing those “kissing Israel’s ass.”

“Foreign aid should be about the people, not the politics,” Gilchrist wrote in 2007. “Why would the West punish the Palestinian people for voting for Hamas into power when Hamas provided goods and services that Fatah could not or was not providing?”

Schuette’s campaign slammed those developments in a TV attack ad. “Whitmer-Gilchrist: The most left-wing ticket in Michigan’s history,” says the narrator. “So extreme, they attacked Israel and praised Hamas … Sympathizing with terrorists … Whitmer-Gilchrist: An extreme risk we can’t take.”


Jewish Population: 1,761,020 (9 percent of state population)

Result: Incumbent Democrat Andrew Cuomo is projected to win handily over Republican Marc Molinaro, 59 percent to 36.8 percent, respectively.

Cuomo signed an executive order in 2016 mandating state entities to separate themselves from public funds that support BDS.

He refused to take a stance on the Iran deal and postponed a trip to Israel in May due to violence along the Gaza border, which his opponent blasted, though the governor visited the Jewish state the previous year.

His father, three-term governor Mario Cuomo, was a stalwart advocate of Israel and proponent against anti-Semitism who relished local Jewish support from both the organized Jewish world and New Yorkers in general.

Molinaro, who visited Israel in 2017, attended the Celebrate Israel Concert in Central Park and pledged his support for the Jewish homeland.


Jewish Population: 148,680 (1.3 percent of state population) 

Result: Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine is projected to win over Democrat Richard Cordray, 50.7 percent to 46.4 percent, respectively.

Although the issue of Israel and BDS did not appear to garner much attention during the pre-election campaigns, DeWine has a track record of being a staunch supporter of Israel as a U.S. senator.

The former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Cordray has repeatedly compared Republicans to Nazis.

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