Republican Jews Worry About Lack of Representation

Saturday, 12 Jul 2014 04:50 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's primary loss last month could mean Republicans will have no Jewish representation in Congress for the first time in more than 50 years.

"Sometimes, a Jewish person just wants to be able to go to Congress and speak with a Jewish person," Republican donor Beverly Goldstein told The New York Times after a meeting of the Republican Jewish Council in Washington recently. "And Chuck Schumer is not it for us."

Besides Cantor there are 31 Jewish members in Congress, 30 of whom are Democrats, and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who usually votes with Democrats.

During the Reagan era, there were numerous Jewish Republicans in congress, but now, many are saying that Cantor's loss reveals the loss of moderates from the GOP.

"It is a very right-wing party, more so than in the past," said New York Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler. "And by so doing it is alienating most of the Jewish electorate."

Historically, there have been numerous prominent Jewish congressmen from all the parties, including Republicans who consistently served from 1879, when New York elected the country's first Jewish Republican congressman, through World War II, when both the 1941 and 1945 Congresses did not have any such party members.

And over the years, the number of Jewish Congress members climbed to a high point of 47 in 2009, but the number of Republicans among their ranks dropped to two, and when Sen. Arlen Specter switched parties, Cantor was the last.

Cantor's loss is giving some Jewish Republican candidates new hope though, as they're being courted by donors.

"Jewish Republicans are for better or worse panicking that there is going to be no representation," said Adam Kwasman, an Arizona state representative and a Jewish tea party candidate for Congress. "They were far more relaxed before Cantor lost."

There are a crop of Republican Jewish candidates seeking office. Bruce Blakeman is running to succeed Rep. Carolyn McCarthy in New York's Nassau County. In Los Angeles, Elan Carr, an Iraq war veteran who lit the Hanukkah menorah in Saddam Hussein's Baghdad palace, hopes to replace Rep. Henry Waxman, a Jewish Democrat. In addition, in Virginia, Micah Edmond, an African-American who converted to Judaism as a teenager, is attempting to defeat Democratic Rep. James Moran.

Congressional analysts say State Sen. Lee Zeldin, a Jewish Republican candidate from New York, has the best chance of entering Congress.

"I haven't spoken to everybody," said Zeldin, who recently met with the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee. "But the people I have spoken to are disappointed, they are very emboldened to want to help us. They are asking themselves if they could have done more to ensure that Cantor didn't lose in the first place. It's certainly on the top of everyone's mind as far as the Jewish community goes."

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