Democrats Retake House, Republicans Retain Senate

Many individual races made history, but the overall results corresponded with predictions

The sun sets behind the U.S. Capitol dome on midterm Election Day, Washington, November 6, 2018.
\ JAMES LAWLER DUGGAN/ REUTERS

SAN FRANCISCO and WASHINGTON – Democrats have won control of the United States House of Representatives in Tuesday's midterm elections, in a major blow to U.S. President Donald Trump. The Senate, however, will remain under Republican control. 

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Tuesday also saw history made as Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar became the first female Muslim women to be elected to the House of Representatives. Tlaib won in Michigan's 13th Congressional District. While fellow Democrat Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, won the seat formerly occupied by Keith Ellison.

Jacky Rosen, a Jewish Democrat, defeated incumbent Nevada Senator Dean Heller, becoming only the third Jewish woman elected to the Senate, and the first to be elected from a state other than California.

The first-term congresswoman emerged as a public figure serving as president of the state’s largest synagogue. She has worked to appeal to pro-Israel voters in her state, saying she, unlike most Democrats, would have opposed Obama’s 2015 Iran nuclear pact.

Heller lost despite enjoying the support of the state’s most powerful Jewish resident – casino billionaire and Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who, together with his wife Miriam, also owns the state’s largest newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Meanwhile in Colorado, Jared Polis became the first openly gay American elected governor. In another first, Sharice Davids won the House race in Kansas and Deb Haaland won a seat in the House of Representatives in New Mexico, becoming the first two Native Americans in the House. 

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In Florida, former Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis beat Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum after both the gubernatorial race and the Senate race were neck-and-neck for hours.

DeSantis hoped to ride Trump’s backing to victory in the governor’s race, while Gillum sought to energize his party’s voters as an unabashed liberal in a campaign marked by a deadly hurricane and gun violence.

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It was also a race in which Jewish mega-donors were heavily invested – San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer contributed nearly $10 million dollars to PACS supporting Gillum and to the candidate directly. Former New York City mayor and businessman Michael Bloomberg and George and Alex Soros also gave generously to Gillum.

In Iowa, Rep. Steve King, the pro-Trump Republican associated with white supremacist views, appeared to narrowly defeat the challenger for his seat in Congress, squeaking past Democrat J.D. Scholten, 49 percent to 48.

In the weeks leading up to the midterms, King was repeatedly mired in controversy. First, he was slammed for his support of Faith Goldy, a white nationalist candidate for mayor in Toronto, Canada.

Then it was revealed that last August, after visiting Auschwitz and meeting with Holocaust survivors on a trip to Poland sponsored by a Holocaust education group, he continued on to Austria, where he gave a sympathetic interview to a far-right publication and met with members of the far-right Freedom Party. 

Following the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, Iowa Jewish leaders slammed him for being “an enthusiastic crusader for the same types of abhorrent beliefs” held by the shooter.

Jewish Republican candidate Lena Epstein lost her bid to replace another GOP congressman in Michigan’s 11th district, losing to Democrat Haley Stevens. A local businesswoman, Epstein served as chair of Trump’s 2016 campaign in her state. 

Epstein drew fire when she invited prominent Messianic Jew Loren Jacobs to speak at a campaign rally with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

At the event, designed to boost the campaigns of Michigan Republicans, Jacobs led a prayer for the victims of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, a move denounced as insensitive to the victims of the tragedy and their families.

Max Rose, a Jewish New York City Democrat, pulled off an upset victory over Republican Rep. Dan Donovan. Rose finished with 52 percent to Donovan’s 48 percent, an impressive accomplishment considering that Donovan won by more than 20 points in his previous races.

Rose impressed voters in New York’s 11th District with his military record - he was wounded in Afghanistan and awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. Rose positioned himself as an independent Democrat - he refrained from bashing Trump, who is popular in his Staten Island district - though the district also includes parts of Brooklyn - and said he would be willing to oppose Democratic leaders if he disagrees with their positions.

Jewish Democrat Elissa Slotkin defeated two-term Republican Rep. Mike Bishop in Michigan's closely watched 8th District that stretches between the northern Detroit suburbs and Lansing.

Slotkin, who served three tours in Iraq, was a national security expert for both Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. She has made “country first” a theme of her campaign.

“Major if this holds. Elissa Slotkin - a brilliant, compassionate public servant - would become a leading voice in Congress from Day One,” former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power tweeted earlier in the night.

The staunchest Jewish supporter of Trump in Congress, GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin, won his re-election bid in New York's 1st Congressional District in Long Island, beating Perry Gershon, another Jewish candidate.

Zeldin took 52.5 percent of the vote, with Gershon coming in with 46.4 percent, in a race in which the two candidates argued over health care and gun control. Zeldin slammed his opponent’s “radical liberal agenda,” but both agreed on Israel, effusively praising moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 

In California, senior Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein cruised easily to victory over her challenger on the left, progressive Democrat Kevin de Leon, winning a fifth term.

Feinstein became the third Jewish incumbent senator to hold onto her seat, together with Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders and Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin.    

In Virginia, incumbent Democrat and former vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine handily defeated Republican Corey Stewart, who was the most controversial GOP nominee for a Senate seat in the midterms.

Stewart came to the race with problematic ties to white supremacists and a history as an outspoken “neo-Confederate” who fought the removal of Confederate statues. Running as a maverick firebrand, however, proved difficult.

In the closing weeks of the campaign, trailing his rival by more than 20 points – who raised nearly 20 times more money than Stewart – he made a last-ditch attempt to moderate his image, with little success.  

MSNBC called Virginia's 10th district, in the suburbs of Washington D.C., as the first "flip" of the night. The network projects that Democrat Jennifer Wexton defeated Republican incumbent Barbara Comstock.

Elaine Luria, A Democract and one of the group of female Jewish military veterans running for office in the midterms, appeared to have pulled out a narrow surprise victory in Virginia’s 2nd congressional district.

The Virginia Department of Elections reported that after 98 percent of the vote was counted Tuesday night, Luria was in the lead by less than 2 percent, ahead by 4,273 votes.

Max Rose, a Jewish New York City Democrat, pulled off an upset victory over Republican Rep. Dan Donovan. Rose finished with 52 percent to Donovan’s 48 percent, an impressive accomplishment considering that Donovan won by more than 20 points in his previous races.

Rose, impressed voters in New York’s 11th District with his military record – he was wounded in Afghanistan and awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. Rose positioned himself as an independent Democrat – he refrained from bashing Trump, who is popular in his Staten Island district – though the district also includes parts of Brooklyn – and said he would be willing to oppose Democratic leaders if he disagrees with their positions.  

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Democratic newcomer Antonio Delgado won a hard-fought race in New York’s 19th Congressional District, an area including Catskills and the Hudson Valley beating Republican incumbent John Faso easily, with 52 percent of the vote to Faso’s 45 percent.

Delgado, an African-American Rhodes scholar who ran on health care, employment, and environmental issues, was hit hard for his remarks in a debate between the two candidates when he said that Israel is not a “Jewish democracy” for as long as it retains control of the West Bank, stating that he was “committed to a two-state solution – a Jewish state of Israel and a sovereign Palestinian state – because it is the only way for Israel to fulfill its own aspirations to remain a Jewish democracy for future generations.” He was also hit by attack ads characterizing him as a “big-city rapper.”

Delgado’s wife Lacey Schwartz Delgado serves as the national outreach director for Be’chol Lashon, a group that advocates for diversity in the Jewish community. The couple, who met at Harvard Law School, are raising their twin sons as Jews.

Georgia’s hotly contested and potentially historic governor’s race may not be over yet, with Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp awaiting the final accounting of absentee and provisional ballots.

With reported votes approaching 3.8 million, Kemp was just shy of 51 percent, but Abrams and her campaign said there were enough ballots outstanding, particularly absentee ballots in heavily Democratic metro Atlanta counties, to bring the Republican below the majority threshold required for victory.

In New Jersey, a pro-Israel Senate stalwart, Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez held onto his seat against GOP challenger Bob Hugin despite being plagued by corruption scandals. Last year he went on trial for corruption charges, but the proceedings ended in a mistrial. Menendez bucked the Obama administration in 2015, voting against the Iran nuclear deal. Pro-Israel donors and PACs contributed generously to his race as a result.

Controversial Jewish candidate for Congress Seth Grossman, came far closer to victory than expected, but ultimately, the GOP candidate disavowed for his racist views by many of his party’s leaders went down in defeat.

His Democratic opponent in the contest to represent New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District, Jeff Van Drew, won 50% of the vote to Grossman’s 47%. The two men were vying for the seat held for the past 24 years by retiring Republican, Rep. Frank LoBiondo.

The state GOP withdrew its support in July after news hit that Grossman had posted an article saying black people “are a threat to all who cross their paths.” And before that, liberal groups compiled a record of racist remarks made by Grossman.

The website Media Matters for America published a report detailing white nationalist propaganda he posted on social media and had said in speeches. He was recorded in June calling diversity “a bunch of crap and un-American.” He has also been quoted as saying that “Islam is a cancer” that has “already infected a billion people,” and suggested that today’s Africans “wish their ancestors had been taken to America as slaves.”

National Republican Congressional Committee to withdraw their support for his candidacy and called for him to drop out of the race, stating that “bigotry has no place in society – let alone the U.S. House of Representatives.”  

In Indiana, ABC News has called the Senate race for Republican challenger Mike Braun, who according to the network will defeat Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly. 

In Vermont, Senator Bernie Sanders was reelected, while Christine Hallquist runs to be the first transgender governor in the United States. In Ohio, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown will keep his seat after beating Republican challenger Jim Renacci, NBC projects. Trump won Ohio by 8 percent in 2016. Brown has represented the state in the Senate since 2006.

In Maryland, another Jewish Democratic Senate incumbent, Ben Cardin, also handily won his re-election bid. Cardin, a centrist Democrat, is a mainstay of the pro-Israel force on his side of the aisle. The son of the late Jewish leader Shoshana Cardin, he opposed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and authored a bill that would impose penalties on companies that comply with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.

A CNN exit poll on Wednesday showed that 79 percent of Jews voted for house Democracts.

Florida

In the Florida Senate race, both incumbent Senator Bill Nelson and Governor Rick Scott enjoyed long-standing strong ties to the Jewish community and records of support for Israel, so there was little to attack on either side. Scott, however, took the opportunity to hammer the incumbent senator for voting in favor of the Iran nuclear deal in 2015.

Jewish veteran congresswoman and former Democratic National Committee head Debbie Wasserman Schultz faced a long-shot challenge from right-wing activist Joe Kaufman - who has run against her three times in the past. Schultz, elected the first-ever Jewish congresswoman from Florida in 2004, was also challenged for her seat representing southern Broward County from Tim Kanova her Democratic primary opponent, who ran to her left as an Independent candidate.

Illinois 

Notorious Holocaust denier and neo-Nazi candidate Arthur Jones lost his bid for Congress in Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District, defeated by the incumbent Democrat Dan Lipinski, who received 66 percent of the vote, to Jones 33 percent.

70-year-old Jones ran unopposed on the Republican primary ballot in March. His affiliation with neo-Nazi organizations – he was an actual member of the American Nazi Party until 1980 and now heads his own neo-Nazi group called America First – was so undeniable that some Republican leaders went beyond distancing themselves from him: actively encouraging voters to cast their ballot for his opponent.

It was a lack of vigilance by the state party that led to Jones becoming the official Republican contender. He is a perennial candidate, running to keep his name in the headlines and hoping that persistence and clever tactics will catch the party off guard.

The party believed that because it had disqualified Jones in the past for failing to meet the threshold of signatures – after finding that many signatures on his election petition were invalid – he would make the same mistake twice. But Jones fooled them, submitting his petition on the last possible day, preventing the party from finding another contender and pulling together the right number of signatures.

Throughout the campaign, Lipinski has done what he can to deprive Jones of a platform for his self-described “racialist” views, opposing school integration, interracial marriage and other manifestations of racial equality.

Meanwhile, in the state's 6th district, Peter Roskam lost to Democratic challenger Sean Casten. Roskam was one of the closest legislators to AIPAC and other pro-Israeli groups.