Top Senate Races Jewish Voters Should Be Eyeing Before Nov. 3
JNS.org – While the 2020 election has been understandably focused on the presidential race, control of the Senate will be crucial as the Republican Party is looking to hold onto its majority amid races that could determine which party holds the upper chamber.
Were Democrats to net the needed three seats (with former US Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in the White House, as his running mate, Kamala Harris, would be president of the Senate and break ties) or four seats (without the aforementioned scenario), this could affect US policy on issues relevant to the Jewish and pro-Israel community.
Below are five of the dozen Senate races that have been deemed close in states with significant Jewish populations.
Note: Jewish population figures are from the American Jewish Year Book 2019.
Jewish population: 108,075 (1.48 percent of state population)
Summary: Incumbent Republican Sen. Martha McSally faces a tough special election battle against astronaut and Democrat Mark Kelly. The winner will be sworn in by the end of November and finish the final two years of the late Sen. John McCain’s term. McSally was appointed by Gov. Doug Ducey in December 2018 after she lost a regular election the previous month to succeed retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (Jon Kyl, who previously served in the Senate between 1995 and 2013, was appointed by Ducey to succeed McCain after McCain died in August 2018; Kyl resigned at the end of 2018).
McSally has supported US President Donald Trump’s pro-Israel agenda. Kelly told Jewish Insider in a recent interview that he supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and called the US withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal “a rather poor decision,” though he said that Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was eliminated in a US airstrike earlier this year, “was a bad actor in the region for a long period of time” and that “it’s good that he’s not in the job anymore.”
Kelly currently leads McSally by 4.2 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics average.
Endorsements: McSally has been endorsed by the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) and NORPAC, while Kelly has been endorsed by the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) and the political action committees of J Street, Democratic Majority for Israel and Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, JStreetPAC, DMFI PAC and Bend the Arc Jewish Action PAC, respectively.
Jewish population: 98,400 (1.7 percent of state population)
Summary: Incumbent GOP Sen. Cory Gardner faces a tough re-election battle against former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who decided to run for the Senate after a failed presidential bid for his party’s nomination in 2020.
Gardner has been supportive of the president’s pro-Israel agenda, including eliminating Soleimani. In a statement, Hickenlooper said, “Soleimani was a terrorist responsible for the death of US service members and innocent civilians. We shed no tears for him. In the aftermath of this strike, we need to understand the full rationale for this action and see a clear strategy to keep American troops and diplomats safe in the face of likely Iranian retaliation and further regional destabilization.”
In a statement to Jewish Insider, Hickenlooper said that, regarding Israel possibly applying sovereignty to the West Bank, “The two-state solution remains the best way to achieve long term peace and stability for both Israelis and Palestinians. I oppose unilateral actions that move us away from this goal, including annexation of the West Bank. In the Senate, I will continue to advocate for advancing Israel’s security and stability and work with J Street towards achieving lasting peace in the region.”
In virtually all polls, Hickenlooper leads Gardner.
Endorsements: Hickenlooper has been endorsed by JStreetPAC, JDCA, DMFI PAC and Bend the Arc Jewish Action PAC, while Gardner has been endorsed by the RJC, Pro-Israel America and NORPAC.
Jewish population: 128,720 (1.21 percent of state population)
Summary: Two close Senate races are being fought in the Peach State.
Incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue faces Jon Ossoff, a Jewish Democrat who lost the most expensive US House of Representatives election in 2017 in the special election in the state’s 6th Congressional District to succeed Rep. Tom Price, who became US secretary of health and human services.
Perdue, who currently leads Ossoff by 1.5 percentage points in the RealClear Politics average, came under fire in July for a digital advertisement featuring a picture of Ossoff with an enlarged nose “even as other parts of his face stayed the same size and proportions,” according to The Forward, which first reported the ad.
The black-and-white ad solicited donations for Perdue’s campaign and also included a picture of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who is also Jewish, and a caption, “Democrats are trying to buy Georgia.”
The apparently Photoshopped ad appeared to invoke the antisemitic tropes of Jews having long noses and that they control politics.
A Perdue campaign spokesperson told The Forward that the campaign ad was inadvertent and was removed.
Ossoff tweeted that the explanation doesn’t pass muster.
Perdue, who co-sponsored an anti-BDS law in 2017, has supported Trump’s pro-Israel agenda, while Ossoff has supported the Iran nuclear deal and, in a statement to Jewish Insider, warned that Israel applying sovereignty to the West Bank would undermine “efforts to achieve a two state solution. A sustainable and humane resolution of conflict can only be achieved by diplomacy.”
“Annexation would represent an abandonment of the peace process established in Oslo in 1993, and it would confirm the failure of contemporary Israeli and Palestinian political leaders to resolve these disputes diplomatically,” he continued. “It is clearer year by year that a new generation of Israeli and Palestinian leaders must emerge to chart a course that will ensure freedom, security, peace and prosperity for all inhabitants of the region.”
In accordance with Georgia electoral law, if no candidate gets at least 50 percent of the vote, a runoff between the top two finishers will be held in January.
Neither Perdue nor Ossoff’s campaign responded to an interview request.
In a special election to serve the remaining two years of the term of Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp after Isakson retired in 2019 for health reasons, faces off against GOP Rep. Doug Collins and eight Democrats, including reverend and pastor Raphael Warnock and Matt Lieberman, a son of former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).
On Nov. 3, all candidates for Isakson’s seat, regardless of partisan affiliation, will be on the ballot. According to many polls, Warnock is the Democrat most likely to advance to the expected run-off unless the January election ends up being between Loeffler and Collins—a top possibility with Lieberman playing spoiler to Warnock’s chances. Otherwise, the special election would likely be between the two Georgia Republican members of Congress.
Loeffler and Collins have both supported Trump’s pro-Israel agenda, while Lieberman told JNS earlier this month that he supported the US embassy move to Jerusalem, the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the recent Abraham Accords.
Warnock has yet to make any public statement on issues pertinent to the Jewish and pro-Israel community.
The campaigns of both Loeffler and Collins did not respond to an interview request, while Warnock’s campaign declined an interview request, citing the reverend’s busy schedule.
Endorsements: While the RJC has endorsed Perdue, it will not endorse ahead of the Nov. 3 special election, RJC spokesperson Neil Strauss told JNS. Perdue has also been endorsed by Pro-Israel America and NORPAC, while Ossoff has been endorsed by JDCA, DMFI PAC and JStreetPAC. Lieberman has not gotten any endorsements from notable Jewish and pro-Israel groups, while Warnock has been endorsed by JDCA.
Jewish population: 87,905 (0.9 percent of state population)
Summary: Incumbent Democratic Sen. Gary Peters tries to fend off Republican nominee John James, a businessman and US Army veteran who unsuccessfully ran for Senate in 2018.
Peters backed the Combating BDS Act and the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, both in 2017, and voted last year in favor of a pro-Israel legislative package that included an anti-BDS measure. He also supported the Iran nuclear deal. And while he said that Soleimani was “a bad actor” and “basically a terrorist” that was “responsible for an awful lot of mayhem in the Middle East,” he expressed concern over the “long-term strategy” of the Trump administration, especially as it pertains to protecting US troops abroad and the US homeland.
Peters leads James by 6 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics average.
Neither Peters nor James’ campaign responded to a request for an interview.
Endorsements: Peters has been endorsed by JDCA, DMFI PAC, Pro-Israel America and NORPAC, while James has been backed by the RJC.
Jewish population: 45,935 (0.44 percent of state population)
Summary: Incumbent Republican Thom Tillis will face Democrat and former state senator Cal Cunningham.
While Tillis has supported Trump’s pro-Israel agenda, Cunningham has expressed support for re-entering the Iran nuclear deal and has stated that Israel applying sovereignty to the West Bank would “deal a significant blow to our shared goal of a two-state solution, and could damage long-standing relationships that are key to security.”
“Unilateral action, by any party, could set the region back and foreclose the opportunity to achieve the long-term peace that is key to the prosperity, security and freedom of Israelis and Palestinians,” said Cunningham.
Tillis told JNS this month that Cunningham “would be detrimental for the Jewish and pro-Israel community,” as he would be a “rubber-stamp for far-left policies” that include rejoining the Iran deal and will “work with anti-Israel Democrats who have voted against anti-BDS legislation.”
Tillis pledged that, if re-elected, “I will continue to be a champion for the Jewish and pro-Israel community because their success is intertwined with the success of democracy worldwide.”
Cunningham’s campaign did not respond to an interview request.
Cunningham leads Tillis by 1.8 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics average.
Endorsements: Tillis has been endorsed by the RJC, Pro-Israel America and NORPAC, while Cunningham has been backed by JDCA, DMFI PAC, JStreetPAC and Bend the Arc Jewish Action PAC.