by Tevi Troy
The 2010 election was a win for the Republicans, but it was also a win for the minority of Jews who vote Republican. Republican Jews put up a strong showing on Election Day, raising hopes that the Jewish vote, while still largely Democratic, will not be seen as monolithic as it has been in the past.
The best news for Republican Jews was that the House Majority leader will be Virginia’s Eric Cantor, who davens at an Orthodox synagogue and learns regularly with a rabbi. Cantor will become the highest ranking Congressional Jew in American history, and is in a position that could lead to him becoming the first Jewish Speaker of the House one day.
Among vulnerable Jewish senators, all of whom were Democrats: Barbara Boxer and Michael Bennet won, Russ Feingold lost, Arlen Specter lost in his primary, and Richard Blumenthal won. Overall, there will be one less Jewish senator come January. New York’s Chuck Schumer, who won reelection against a weak opponent, nonetheless suffered a setback when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid won a tough reelection battle.
Had Reid lost, Schumer had an excellent shot at beating out Illinois’ Dick Durbin in the race for Senate majority leader. With that, we could have had Jewish majority leaders in both the House and the Senate.
Two Jews have also joined the small but growing ranks of Jewish Republican elected officials. Josh Mandel, a frum Iraq War veteran, was elected Ohio state treasurer, and Sam Olens won his race for attorney general in Georgia.
In terms of the eternal question, “Whither the Jewish vote?” the Republican Jewish Coalition commissioned an exit poll of Jewish voters in Pennsylvania and Illinois that found that Republican victors Pat Toomey won 31% of the Jewish vote and Mark Kirk won 32%. J Street, the liberal Jewish group that has tried to push America’s Israel policy in a more “pro-peace” direction, conducted a national exit poll that found 31% of Jewish voters siding with the Republicans. Though the two groups often clash, both would agree that with over 30% of Jews voting for the GOP, Republicans over-performed with Jewish voters compared to their historical average of about 24% in off year elections.
The big question is whether this trend of more Jews voting Republican will continue in 2012, and here J Street and the Republican Jewish Coalition would disagree. J Street will point to the 78% of Jews who voted for Obama in 2008 to make its case, but the RJC will look at both the 2010 election results and the recent American Jewish Committee poll that found only a 51% support rating for Obama among Jews.
In fact, the 2012 election may determine not just the presidency, but also the viability of J Street. Before the election, the group was rocked by the revelation that George Soros was a major funder of the organization, contrary to denials from J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami. The election results did not help them, either. According to an e-mail sent around by AIPAC’s Josh Block, “Of twenty five competitive races in which J Street endorsed, their candidates lost in fourteen races, including in all three Senate races.” J Street had been trying to claim that it represented a more authentic view of the American Jewish community, and the election results challenge their claim from both an American and a Jewish perspective. Some Jewish officials have even wondered recently if J Street will exist in five years. Tuesday’s results bolster the case for such predictions.
On the other side of the aisle, the RJC faces the challenge of holding their 2010 gains. They have an advantage in that presidential elections focus more on foreign policy and the Israel issue, but they also saw how well President Obama did in the community. The RJC also keeps hoping that one day it will capitalize on the higher birth rates of the more Republican Orthodox community, but at this point non- Orthodox Jews comprise the overwhelming majority of American Jews.
Finally, it is clear the RJC will try to capitalize in 2012 on Obama’s attempts to pressure Israel in pre-negotiations with the Palestinians.
It remains to be seen whether the Jewish community will be listening.
The big question is whether this trend of more Jews voting Republican will continue in 2012, and here J Street and the Republican Jewish Coalition would disagree.