WASHINGTON - Americans are voting Tuesday to choose representatives, senators and governors – in addition to state representatives – in hundreds of elections across the country. The midterms promise to be the most dramatic political race since President Donald Trump’s shock victory two years ago, and Haaretz has compiled a list of some of the most fascinating and unique Jewish angles related to Election Day.
1 The Jewish vote in Florida
There is probably no other state in the United States where Jewish voters have a bigger impact: Because statewide elections here tend to be extremely close, Florida’s Jewish electorate can have an important impact on the results. Jewish voters are estimated to comprise around 4 to 5 percent of voters in Florida, where the 2016 presidential election and the 2014 gubernatorial election were both decided by a margin of just 1 percent.
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This year, there are two important statewide elections: Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is fighting for reelection against the state’s current governor, Rick Scott. Meanwhile, Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantis are locked in a tight race to replace Scott.
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Gillum visited a local synagogue, together with Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) last week, expressing his support for the Jewish community and discussing the security needs of the state’s Jewish institutions. DeSantis is known for his strong right-wing views on Israel, and has attacked Gillum on Israel-related issues in their public debates.
With the race having such a major impact on the 2020 presidential election, it's no wonder it has attracted an enormous amount of money from donors: The two candidates combined had a campaign war chest of $77 million.
2 Betting the House on New Jersey
This is another state with a large Jewish population and a number of competitive contests. Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez is leading in the polls against his Republican opponent Bob Hugin, but several recent polls have predicted a much tighter result than initially expected. New Jersey elected a Democratic governor, Phil Murphy, by a wide margin last year and he recently concluded a visit to Israel. But according to the polls, Menendez is suffering the repercussions of his corruption trial, which ended in a mistrial last year.
Menendez is considered a staunch supporter of the Israeli government and is closely aligned with AIPAC. He hinted in a speech before the pro-Israel lobby’s annual conference last year that he believes his corruption trial was a result of his opposition to the Obama administration’s Iran policy. If he survives on Tuesday, Jewish voters and donors will probably have played an important role in that.
There are also a number of competitive House of Representatives races in districts with significant Jewish populations. The Democratic Party’s hopes of recapturing a majority in the House will include it “flipping” at least one or two competitive seats in the Garden State.
3 Nevada: From synagogue president to senator?
There are dozens of Jewish candidates running in both legislative chambers this year, but the Jewish candidate who could have the greatest impact on the balance of power in Washington is the Democrats’ Rep. Jacky Rosen. She is locked in a tight race with Republican Sen. Dean Heller – the only Republican incumbent running for reelection in a state that was carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Rosen, a software designer, used to be president of Congregation Ner Tamid, the largest Reform synagogue in her state. She has focused her campaign on education and health care, emphasizing Heller’s vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the protections it provides to people with preexisting conditions. Recent polls suggest the race is too close to call. If Rosen does win, she will provide the Democrats with a vital “pick up” in a year in which they are mostly playing defense, trying to stop Republicans from capturing seats in states won by Trump two years ago.
4 Adelson – the single largest midterms donor
Nevada is also the home state of Sheldon Adelson, the casino tycoon who has so far – together with wife Miri Adelson – invested an estimated $113 million into trying to maintain Republican control of Washington. The megadonor has thrown more money into the midterms than anyone else (more than double that of the second biggest donors on the list, Thomas Steyer and Kathryn Taylor, who contributed $50.7 million to the Democrats).
Adelson’s latest investment comes on top of previous efforts to sway the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections. In 2012, he failed to stop President Barack Obama from winning a second term, but four years later succeeded in helping Trump win the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote.
5 Jewish billionaires flipping for the Democrats
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is himself rumored to be a potential 2020 presidential nominee, has spent an estimated $38 million supporting Democratic candidates across the country. On Sunday, he unveiled a two-minute national ad in which he made a personal plea for voters to support Democrats at all levels. Looking straight into the camera, he warned how the Republican Party has failed to put a check on Trump and has encouraged his most dangerous behaviors.
Bloomberg also noted that he used to be a registered Republican, and he is not the only prominent Jewish Republican to have switched sides during this election cycle.
Boston-based billionaire Seth Klarman, who donated to Republican causes for many years, said in September that he was planning to give up to $20 million to leading Democratic candidates. Klarman – who like Bloomberg is considered a strong supporter of Israel – explained in the New York Times that he was worried about the direction in which Trump was taking the United States, and by the Republicans’ failure to have any moderating influence on him.
Another prominent Jewish donor who recently flipped is Ohio-based billionaire Leslie Wexner. Like Klarman, Wexner said in September that he no longer considers himself a Republican, citing Trump and saying he “won’t support this nonsense in the Republican Party.” Wexner started becoming disillusioned with the GOP when Trump attributed blame to both sides following the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in August 2017.
6 The unique Jewish candidates of Michigan
A lot of media attention will be devoted to congressional races in Michigan, with two of these contests featuring Jewish candidates. Elissa Slotkin, a former CIA official who worked under the Bush and Obama administrations as a Middle East analyst with expertise in Iraqi politics, is challenging incumbent Republican Congressman Mike Bishop in the 8th Congressional District. Bishop is a veteran politician who won his previous elections easily, but recent polls show a tight race on Tuesday.
Slotkin has emphasized her history of working for both Republican and Democratic administrations, and was recently endorsed by Stephen Hadley – who was formerly national security adviser to President George W. Bush. She is also attacking Bishop for voting in favor of repealing the Affordable Care Act.
The 11th Congressional District, in the suburbs of Detroit, also has a Jewish candidate – but this time from the Republican side – with Lena Epstein competing against Democratic candidate Haley Stevens. Epstein was criticized by the local Jewish community last week for inviting prominent Messianic Jew Loren Jacobs to speak at a campaign rally with Vice President Mike Pence.
Jacobs is leading the “Jews for Jesus” movement in the area – essentially trying to turn Jews into Christians. Despite the fact that no Jewish denomination recognizes this kind of religious activity as part of Judaism, Jacobs was introduced at Epstein’s event as a rabbi.
7 The Jewish Democrat trying to win the GOP’s NYC stronghold
Max Rose is one of the youngest candidates running for office in the midterms. He is a 30-year-old military veteran who received a Purple Heart after serving in Afghanistan. His latest battle sees him trying to flip the congressional seat in Staten Island – the GOP’s last stronghold in New York City. Besides his military service, Rose has also worked on health care issues and, like many other Democrats, is focusing his campaign on the Republican Party’s attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
A recent New York Times poll showed him trailing Republican incumbent Dan Donovan by 4 points. This was described as a surprisingly “decent” result for a Democrat, but Rose will have to expand his level of support in order to achieve a surprising victory in New York’s 11th Congressional District on Tuesday.
8 The first Palestinian-American congresswoman
It is almost certain that after polls close on Tuesday, Rashida Tlaib will become the first woman of Palestinian origin to sit in Congress. (Republican Rep. Justin Amash, whose father is Palestinian, has represented Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District since 2011.) She is also likely to share the honor of becoming the first Muslim congresswoman with a fellow Democrat, Ilhan Omar.
Tlaib is running in one of the country’s safest Democratic seats, in Detroit, and her victory in the primary all but ensured her presence in Congress. She has called for the slashing of military aid to Israel and – against her party’s official line of backing a two-state solution – expressed support for the creation of one state in which all Israelis and Palestinians will have equal citizenship. That move led J Street to withdraw its support for her candidacy.
Omar has also attracted media attention because of her statements on Israel – in particular a 2012 tweet in which she wrote: "Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel."
9 How will Pittsburgh affect the midterms?
Trump said last week that the murder of 11 Jewish worshippers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue on October 27, in addition to the pipe bombs sent to some of the president’s critics, had stopped his party’s “tremendous momentum” ahead of the midterms. He complained about the news media covering those events instead of national politics. However, by the time most people vote on Tuesday, Pittsburgh’s tragedy will no longer be dominating the headlines.
It remains to be seen if the massacre will have any impact on results. Will the mass shooting cause independent voters in suburban areas to make gun-control policy their deciding factor? Will Trump pay a price for his handling of both the tragedy and the political violence directed toward his opponents? Will the Jewish vote, which was already leaning strongly Democrat, go even more blue than in recent elections? Or will there be another effect, similar to how Republicans rallied around a beleaguered Trump following the October 2016 release of the video in which he talked about grabbing women “by the pussy”?
The answers to all of these questions will only become known Tuesday night after polls close across the United States.