(November 7, 2012 / JNS) Nov. 6 was a mixed night for Jews vying for a seat in the 113th Congress, as redistricting played a role in several key Jewish races.
Jewish Democrats had varied success, while Jewish Republicans failed in their bid to join U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) as the lone Jewish Republican in both houses. However, with five Jewish lawmakers retiring, overall Jewish numbers declined.
The biggest disappointments for Jewish Republicans came in New York, Florida, Ohio and New Jersey. In New York’s 1st district, U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop beat out Long Island businessman Randy Altschuler in a rematch of the 2010 race. In Florida, Democrat Lois Frankel defeated Republican Adam Hasner in a race that featured two Jewish candidates.
In Ohio, Jewish Republicans saw State Treasurer Josh Mandel’s bid to overtake U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown fail. More than $22 million was contributed in outside spending in support of Mandel, an Iraq War veteran. Analysts suspect that Mandel’s loss may be attributed to his opposition to the auto bailout.
In New Jersey’s 9th district, incumbent U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell soundly defeated Republican hopeful and celebrity rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Earlier this year, Pascrell also beat Jewish Congressman Steve Rothman in a bitter Democratic primary battle after the two long-term incumbents were forced into the same district. In both races, Rothman and Boteach questioned Pascrell’s pro-Israel credentials.
Meanwhile, Jewish Democrats had mixed success in their bids for Congress. In Florida, fiery liberal politician Alan Grayson will return to the House after defeating Republican Todd Long in a newly created district. Democrats Brad Schneider in Chicago, Alan Lowenthal in California and U.S. Rep. David Cicilline in Rhode Island all won.
The most dramatic Jewish Democratic race was the battle between U.S. Rep. Howard Berman and U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman in California. Forced to faceoff due to redistricting, Berman was soundly defeated by Sherman after a long and bitter race that at one point became physical during a debate.
But it wasn’t all good news for Jewish Democrats.
In Nevada, U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley failed to defeat U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, who was appointed to the Senate seat after the resignation of John Ensign over ethics violations. The Nevada race was hotly contested. Berkley, a seven-term congresswoman from Las Vegas, had been dogged for months over a House ethics investigation, but received substantial support from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Meanwhile, Las Vegas casino magnate and Jewish billionaire donor Sheldon Adelson spent more than $4 million to defeat Berkley.
New Jersey’s two Jewish Democrats failed in their bids to defeat incumbents. In New Jersey’s 5th district, Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett fended off a challenge from Teaneck’s Democratic deputy mayor Adam Gussen. In New Jersey’s 3rd district, former Philadelphia Eagles football star U.S. Rep. John Runyan beat Democrat Shelley Adler in the state’s most expensive race.
Meanwhile, three Jewish Senators all won easy reelection—U.S. Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
However, with a large amount of Jewish lawmakers all retiring—U.S. Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Herb Kohl (D-WI), and U.S. Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), Barney Frank (D-MA) and Bob Filner (D-CA)—overall Jewish numbers declined in both houses.
But despite the decline, Jews still wield considerable strength in proportion to their percentage of the nation’s overall population, holding 10 percent of the Senate and 5 percent of the House of Representatives, but only around 2 percent of the population.