WASHINGTON – The defeat of incumbent Norm Coleman in the drawn-out Minnesota Senate race leaves Republicans without a Jewish senator for the first time in half a century.
Coleman's departure comes two months after the GOP's other Jewish member, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, switched parties to become a Democrat. Coleman conceded his long-contested race with Democratic challenger Al Franken Tuesday after the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected Coleman's legal challenge.
Republicans have had at least one Jewish senator since New York's Jacob Javits took office in 1957, reaching a peak of three during the mid-1980s.
In the House, Eric Cantor of Virginia has risen quickly since he took office in 2001 to become the minority whip, the second-ranked House Republican. His other distinction is that, since 2003, he is the only Jewish Republican in the 435-member body. That's down from eight Jewish GOP members who served in the House during the 1990s.
There are currently 29 Democrats in the House who list their religion as Jewish. The Senate will have 13 Jewish members as of next week when Franken, Coleman's rival in Minnesota, is sworn in. That's 11 Democrats and two independents who normally vote with the Democrats.
Ira Forman, CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, said the sharp drop in the number of Jewish Republicans in Congress paralleled the party's shift to the right. "It's a reflection of where the Republican Party has gone," he said. "It's left the Jewish community pretty cold."
Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said his group was not happy with the defeat of Coleman, who has worked with them as a consultant. But he disagreed with those who say the Republican Jewish movement is declining, saying "you will see and are seeing Jewish Republicans winning elections all across the country" at the state and local level.
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