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November 5, 2018 12:00 pm

The Top 10 House Races of Concern to Jewish Voters

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The US Capitol building. Wikimedia Commons via Martin Falbisoner.

JNS.org – As the race for control of Congress heads down the home stretch, many experts and pundits are predicting an end to the seven-year Republican majority in the House of Representatives.

A Democratic takeover could undermine—or at least, certainly interrupt—the president’s agenda on Israel, Iran and other foreign-policy issues.

Below are the top 10 House races to watch for regarding the Jewish and pro-Israel community. All the districts are toss-ups, according to RealClear Politics.

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

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NEW JERSEY 7

Jewish population: 46,000 (6.28 percent of district population)

Summary: This district covers a large part of northern and western New Jersey, including wealthy New York City suburbs.

Five-term Republican Rep. Leonard Lance faces a tough challenge from Tom Malinowski, who served under former President Barack Obama as the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor. The incumbent leads by just 1 percentage point in the most recent Siena College-New York Times poll.

Lance supported the US recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in addition to moving the embassy there from Tel Aviv. Four months before the May 14 move, the congressman introduced the Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act, which would have accelerated the relocation.

He also applauded US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Malinowski established a Jewish Advisory Council on his campaign to advise him on matters relevant to the Jewish community. It consists of Rabbi Charles Kroloff, a J Street supporter and past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis; Rabbi Dan Cohen, a member of the National Advisory Council for AIPAC; Rabbi Eric Yoffie, a past president of the Union for Reform Judaism; Julie Fischer, a board member of the National Democratic Jewish Council; and Liz Cohen, co-chair of the Reform Jewish Voice of New Jersey.

The Democratic nominee is a proponent of the Iran deal.

As a lobbyist for Human Rights Watch, Malinowski advocated against American support of the Israeli military and opposed the United States for giving the Israeli Defense Forces cluster munitions, and asked then-New York Sen. Hillary Clinton to not back Israel’s construction of an “illegal” wall along the West Bank.

Funding: Lance got $120,000 from NORPAC and $5,834 from the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), while Malinowski received $10,800 from Democratic mega-donor George Soros.

NEW JERSEY 3

Jewish population: 38,000 (5.19 percent of district population)

Summary: This district covers part of central New Jersey.

Incumbent Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur leads former White House counterterrorism adviser Andy Kim by a few percentage points in the latest Siena College-New York Times poll.

MacArthur opposed the Iran deal and supported the reimposition of US sanctions on the regime, while Kim backed the accord and has been endorsed by J Street PAC.

Funding: Kim received $1,000 from Jewish philanthropist and Democratic Party mega-donor Soros, while MacArthur got $5,900 from NORPAC and $2,500 from RJC.

Quote: “There are voters where Israel is a top priority for them and would swing their vote regardless of party,” MacArthur’s campaign consultant, Chris Russell, told NJ.com. “People do vote on issues. This is one that is important to a significant group.”

CALIFORNIA 25

Jewish population: 46,000 (4.98 percent of district population)

Summary: This district covers both part of northern Los Angeles County and Ventura County.

The race has become tight between incumbent Republican Rep. Steve Knight and Democrat Katie Hill, a non-profit director whose organization is the state’s “largest nonprofit provider of homes for the homeless,” according to her campaign website. The incumbent leads by just 4 percentage points in the Siena College-New York Times poll.

Hill, endorsed by J Street, condemned the overall violence in Gaza during the US embassy opening in Jerusalem in May and opposed America withdrawing from the Iran deal.

Meanwhile, Knight attended the US embassy opening and opposed the Iran deal.

Funding: Most of the $6.3 million raised by Hill has come from the online Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue, which has funds from donors such as one of Soros’s sons, Jonathan. Hill has received $25,633 from J Street and $5.1 million from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Independence USA PAC.

Knight has raised $1.3 million, none of which has come from the major Jewish or pro-Israel donors.

CALIFORNIA 45

Jewish population: 31,000 (4.41 percent of district population)

Summary: This district covers Orange County, including Irvine and Laguna Hills.

Rep. Mimi Walters is facing a tough battle for a third term as she trails her opponent, law professor Katie Porter, by 5 percentage points in the Siena College-New York Times poll.

Walters was against the Iran deal and has repeatedly stressed that Israel is one of the US’s closest allies.

Porter, endorsed by J Street and the Jewish Democratic Councilsupported the Iran deal.

Funding: Walters, who has raised more than $4.44 million, got $5,400 from Jewish philanthropist and Republican Party mega-donor Sheldon Adelson and $2,500 from RJC, which endorsed her. Porter has fundraised more than $5.8 million, none of which has come from the major Jewish or pro-Israel donors.

CALIFORNIA 48

Jewish population: 29,000 (4.13 percent of district population)

Summary: This district in Southern California covers Orange County, including Huntington Beach.

Incumbent Republican Rep. Dana Rohrbacher trails his Democratic opponent, Harley Rouda,  a lawyer and longtime businessman, by 5 percentage points in the latest Monmouth University poll.

Rohrbacher gave “three cheers” over the United States withdrawing from the Iran deal, while Rouda, endorsed by J Street PAC, slammed Trump’s move in May as “reckless.”

Funding: In July, a yacht fundraiser for Rohrbacher and Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz was attended by Holocaust-denier Charles C. Johnson, whom Rohrbacher welcomed to a meeting on Capitol Hill with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), which caused the ADL to call for the congressman to “discontinue any association with Johnson and repudiate his views.”

CALIFORNIA 50

Jewish population: 10,000 (1.42 percent of district population)

Summary: This district covers parts of San Diego County and Riverside County.

Despite being indicted on campaign finance violations in August, Rep. Duncan Hunter barely leads Ammar Campa-Najjar by just 3 percentage points in the latest SurveyUSA poll.

Once a long-shot candidate in what is a heavily Republican district, Campa-Najjar, who served in the Obama administration, is a grandson of Muhammad Yousef al-Najjar, who was a member of the Black September terrorist group that killed 11 members of the Israeli athletic team at the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics and was assassinated by Israeli commandos in Beirut in 1973.

“As an American citizen living in the 21st century, I will never be able to understand or condone the actions and motivations of my grandfather,” he told Haaretz in February before telling local outlets that these remarks would not be utilized for political gain.

“Like many American families, my heritage bears a heartbreaking history,” he added. “To achieve peace, Palestinians and Israelis will have to make the same personal choice I’ve had to make: leave the dark past behind so that the future shines brighter in the eyes of our children.”

Meanwhile, Hunter supported the president for withdrawing from the Iran deal, which the congressman said “should never have been entered into,” and that leaving the agreement “presents the opportunity to better hold the Iranian regime accountable for its decisions.”

Funding: Campa-Najjar, who raised more than $2.4 million and has been endorsed by J Street PAC, received $17,300 in donations from board members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has been linked to the terrorist group Hamas and was an unindicted co-conspirator in the terror fundraising trial of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development.

The Democratic nominee is rejecting calls for him to return the money. “I reject the premise,” he said. “There is no CAIR money.”

He added, “Why would I give back American money that’s legal?”

Hunter has raised just $975,430, and has not received any funds from the major Jewish and pro-Israel donors in this election cycle.

MICHIGAN 11

Jewish population: 17,500 (2.48 percent of district population)

Summary: This district is northwest of Detroit.

The race between Republican Lena Epstein and Democrat Haley Stevens to replace the retiring Dave Trott, a Republican, is too close to call.

Epstein, a businesswoman who was the Michigan chair for the Trump campaign, has come under fire for inviting Messianic rabbi to say a prayer for the 11 killed during the Oct. 27 shooting at Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Synagogue in Pittsburgh. She defended the move by saying that the rabbi came “because we must unite as a nation—while embracing our religious differences—in the aftermath of Pennsylvania.”

On other issues, Epstein wrote in The Detroit News her opposition to the Iran deal.

Meanwhile, Stevens, who served in the Obama administration as chief of staff of the auto-rescue task force, gave a general overview of her stance on the US-Israel relationship: “As the only democracy in the Middle East and our strongest ally in the region, Israel and her security are paramount to our interests at home and abroad,” she states on her campaign website, without giving a stance on the Iran deal other than to state “we must chart a way forward” by preventing Iran “from getting a nuclear weapon and also deal with terrorism, rockets and regional destabilization. Diplomacy must be the first option and is the best solution, but all options must remain on the table.”

Funding: Epstein received $5,000 from RJC, which endorsed her. Stevens has not received any funds from the major Jewish and pro-Israel donors in this election cycle.

Quote: “It’s a tough district for the GOP to hold for several reasons; it’s a suburban district that Trump carried with less than 50 percent,” Leah Askarinam of Inside Elections told JNS.

“Plus, since Trott isn’t seeking re-election for that seat, Republicans don’t have the advantages that come with incumbency—namely, a built-in fundraising network and pre-existing name ID,” she added. “That said, both candidates are running credible campaigns, and the district has shown a preference for the GOP in recent House and presidential races.”

NEW YORK 19

Jewish population: 20,000 (2.79 percent of district population)

Summary: This district is located in Hudson Valley and the Catskills.

Incumbent Republican Rep. John Faso trails Democrat Antonio Delgado by 5 percentage points in the latest Monmouth University poll.

Delgado recently came under fire for saying that “Israel is not a democracy.”

“Being pro-Israel and being pro-peace is critical, but I’m also pro-democracy, and as currently constructed, Israel is not a Jewish democracy,” he said. “Those settlements make it so that it can’t be.”

Faso rebuked his opponent: “Israel is not a democracy? Israel is a strong democracy. It is a vibrant democracy. It has got a vibrant free enterprise system. It has got a vibrant agricultural system and culture. Israel is a democracy. They are our main democratic ally in that region, and in fact, moving the embassy to Jerusalem was the right decision.”

Funding: Faso received $7,800 from NORPAC, while Delgado has received at least $250 from Soros.

TEXAS 7

Jewish population: 21,000 (3.01 percent of district population)

Summary: This district is just west of Houston.

Incumbent Republican Rep. John Culberson has just a 1 percentage point lead over Lizzie Fletcher in the latest New York Times-Siena poll.

Culberson has spoken out against antisemitism, such as last year when there were hoax bomb scares at Jewish institutions nationwide, including the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston in his district.

“This wave of anti-Israel and antisemitic behavior is a dangerous trend, and meant to marginalize the Jewish community,” he said in a statement. “Our country is founded upon freedom of religion, and we must unite to denounce this behavior.”

Culberson supported the United States recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the withdrawal from the Iran accord.

Fletcher has not said anything publicly about issues related to the Jewish and pro-Israel community.

Funding: Culberson received $2,500 from RJC, while Bloomberg’s Independence PAC ran an ad in support of Fletzher.

Quote: “It’s a suburban district, and the demographics have been trending away from the GOP in recent cycles, exemplified by Hillary [Clinton] winning the district in 2016,” veteran Republican Texas-based strategist Matt Mackowiak told JNS. “It’s going to be very close.”

VIRGINIA 5

Jewish population: 2,000 (0.27 percent of district population)

Summary: This district includes Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia.

In the race to replace the retiring Tom Garrett, Leslie Cockburn, who has come under fire from the pro-Israel community, leads Republican small-business owner Denver Riggleman by just 1 percentage point in the latest New York Times-Siena poll.

She and her husband Andrew Cockburn’s book, Dangerous Liaisons: The Inside Story of the US-Israeli Covert Relationship, “is largely dedicated to Israel-bashing for its own sake. Its first message is that, win or lose, smart or dumb, right or wrong, suave or boorish, Israelis are a menace. The second is that the Israeli-American connection is somewhere behind just about everything that ails us,” according to a New York Times book review.

Funding: Cockburn has been endorsed by J Street PAC, which is fundraising for her. RJC bought $300,000 of television time to run an attack ad against Cockburn.

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