Post-election analysis: It’s not Israel, it’s the economy

Post-election analysis: It’s not Israel, it’s the economy

United States Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, right, at a Sept. 19 fund-raiser in Englewood hosted by NORPAC president Ben Chouake. Photo by Karen Pichkhadze
United States Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, right, at a Sept. 19 fund-raiser in Englewood hosted by NORPAC president Ben Chouake. Photo by Karen Pichkhadze

Sizing up the 2010 elections, Jewish observers declared it a good night for Republicans, a rough time for Democrats, and a “mixed-bag" for pro-Israel voters.

NORPAC, the nonpartisan pro-Israel PAC based in Englewood, welcomed victories from old friends like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Alaska incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is expecting a victory as an independent write-in candidate.

But the group called the defeat of Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Minn.) a disappointment, along with the failed challenge in New Jersey’s Dist. 12 by Republican Scott Sipprelle, who earned NORPAC’s endorsement over Rep. Rush Holt.

The results were “a mixed bag; it is always a mixed bag,” said Ben Chouake, NORPAC’s president. “We had some big wins and some heartbreakers.”

Some analysts felt the pro-Israel vote played a negligible result in last Tuesday’s results.

“I just don't think Israel was what people were going to the polls for,” said Stuart Rothenberg, a columnist for Roll Call and editor/founder of The Rothenberg Political Report.

Speaking in a conference call sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, he said, “I can’t tell you an individual voter didn't take that into consideration, but this election was about the economy. Foreign policy appears not to have played a major issue.”

Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University in Lawrenceville, agreed.

“With a certain segment of the Jewish community, Israel is the priority issue,” Dworkin said in an interview with NJJN. “That is a subsection of the Jewish community. The overall Jewish community is like the overall American community — an electorate very much concerned with the state of the economy. That was the dominant issue.”

Only one incumbent in New Jersey, Rep. John Adler (D-Dist. 3), who was seeking a second term, failed to be reelected. Adler, one of four Jewish Democrats in the House who were defeated, lost to Republican Jon Runyon.

Runyon’s victory "wasn't surprising, given that his was a historically very Republican district,” said Dworkin.

“Nationally it was a Republican wave, but Democrats will find some silver lining,” he told NJJN. “Given the state of the economy and the disappointment in the direction of the country, their losses were not as dire as was predicted only a couple of days ago. It is a category 4, not a category 5 hurricane.”

But, Rothenberg suggested, whatever solace Democrats take from the 2010 elections may be temporary.

Calculating Republican gains on the state as well as the federal level, Rothenberg said, the GOP has won control of both houses of the legislatures in 20 states, allowing Republicans to draw the boundary lines in a year when congressional seats are redistricted.

That, he said, “will possibly add another 10 or 15 or 20” Republican-dominated districts “and make them harder for Democrats to win them back over the next decade.”

“In the Senate, the next two classes are overwhelming Democratic,” added Rothenberg. “So it may be hard for the Democrats to hold the Senate over the next four years.”

Dueling analysis

Partisan and issues-oriented Jewish groups, meanwhile, tried to spin the election’s results to their advantage.

In a Nov. 3 conference call, J Street president and founder Jeremy Ben-Ami told reporters that polls of Jewish voters commissioned by his organization indicated they strongly supported Democrats who agree with the organization’s “pro-Israel, pro-peace” policy.

Holt, who received $34,000 from J Street, was among the 45 successful House incumbents of the 55 the group endorsed this election cycle.

“If you stand up for what’s right for Israel’s interest and a two-state solution, there is a base of support, and you will win,” said Ben-Ami. “That was proven by people like Rush Holt and others in tight races.”

Citing results of a Gerstein/Agne Strategic Communications poll his organization subsidized, Ben-Ami said Jewish voters “remain strongly in support of President Obama and his policies in the Middle East and his positions on Israel…. The American-Jewish community held its ground as a fundamentally liberal progressive community and took no part in this shift and remains deeply suspicious of political conservatives as well as the Republican Party and the Tea Party.”

The Republic Jewish Coalition begged to differ, noting that its PAC supported the Republican against J Street’s PAC in 11 races, winning seven of those races, including three Senate seats.

“Whatever J Street claims they can claim, but that doesn't make it all true,” said Dworkin, pointing to the Holt-Sipprelle race. “It is hard to discern J Street credit or NORPAC ineffectiveness in this particular race. It was decided by a whole bunch of things besides the issue of how people interpreted Rush Holt’s position on Israel.”

“The reality is Holt has a heavily gerrymandered district,” NORPAC’s Chouake complained. “Sometimes you take your shot and lose. I hope Holt takes our criticism to heart. I don’t think he is sympathetic to our cause.”

Perhaps the biggest win from NORPAC’s perspective was the reelection of Reid, who defeated the Tea Party-backed Republican, Sharron Angle, 50 to 45 percent.

On Sept. 19, NORPAC hosted a fund-raiser for Reid at Chouake’s Englewood home.

“At the end of the day, people are going to elect a Major Leaguer,” Chouake said. “The Tea Party is an enthusiastic group, and the concept of what they are doing is honorable. But sometimes when you are enthusiastic and just getting started, you overreach a little bit.”

Chouake welcomed the news that Murkowski, who lost her party’s nomination to Joe Miller, held a lead as a write-in candidate.

“She is someone we knew would be supportive on our issue,” he said, noting that Miller favored strong cuts in foreign aid.

Chouake called Feingold’s defeat to a Republican candidate a disappointment. “We knew him well, and he was very high up on the Foreign Relations Committee. It's a loss,” said Chouake.

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