Troubled by the prospect that insurgent Tea Party Republicans could unseat incumbents of both parties deemed friendly to Israel, a leading pro-Israel political action committee raised $25,000 Sept. 19 for the embattled Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Reid, a four-term senator and leader of his party since 2007, was guest of honor at the Englewood home of NORPAC president Ben Chouake.
Although the meeting with Reid was off the record to reporters, Chouake told NJ Jewish News by telephone several hours after it ended that “Reid knows he is in a very tough race” against a Tea Party-backed Republican, Sharron Angle.
(A Sept. 14 Rasmussen Reports telephone survey in Nevada has the two candidates running in a dead heat, each with 48 percent of likely voters, 3 percent for other parties, and 2 percent undecided.)
“What we were talking about was not concern with the Tea Party. We are not saying, ‘This is bad’ or ‘This is good,’ but stating, ‘It’s a phenomenon.’ With all the talk about how this is good for the Republican Party because it is generating a lot of enthusiasm, the down side is it is also generating a lot of candidates who are poorly vetted,” Chouake said. “They are throwing a lot of tried-and-true Republican incumbents under the bus.”
Chouake said NORPAC remains nonpartisan ahead of November’s mid-term congressional elections.
“Our job is not so much to preserve incumbents as to facilitate U.S.-Israel relations,” he said. “If we have somebody in office with a proven track record, we will support them. Our job is to make the best relationships. It doesn’t mean we want to keep an incumbent in office, but if an incumbent is good, we will work to keep him getting elected.”
It is all about maintaining a strong comfort level with candidates in both parties, he explained.
“You work a long time with people. You like them. You trust them. They are great on your issue. These are people you want leading the country,” Chouake said.
He lamented the results of the Republican primary in Delaware, where a right-wing Tea Party maverick named Christine O’Donnell defeated a moderate House member, Michael Castle, for the GOP’s Senate nomination.
Castle had been a recipient of NORPAC support.
“Chris O’Donnell may be fine or she may be totally not fine. But Mike Castle had a good chance of winning; but with O’Donnell, it sure doesn’t look that way,” Chouake said.
(As of Sept. 16, the Rasmussen poll gave her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons, a lead of 53 to 43 percent.)
The NORPAC president said he was also saddened by the defeat of the conservative Sen. Robert Bennett after the Utah Republican was targeted by members of the Tea Party movement last May.
“We had a long relationship with Bob Bennett. He is a great guy,” said Chouake.
Lisa Murkowski, the Republican senator from Alaska who lost a primary election to Tea Party-backed Joe Miller, is planning a write-in campaign to preserve her seat. Chouake said her anticipated defeat “is not a good thing.”
But when it comes to some of the incumbents who will not be running again, Chouake said, “We don’t mind their leaving.”
Chouake cited Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH).
“He is not a bad guy, but we never had any relationship with him at all, and he wasn’t interested in our issue,” he said. “I wish him well, but I'm not sad he is retiring.”
Chouake said Democrat Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, who will be stepping down after 36 years in Congress, “is a mensch. Am I sad he is leaving? Yes. I am upset to see Chris Dodd go.”