One Republican’s lonely voice
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One Republican’s lonely voice

GOP working tirelessly to enhance its Jewish presence in Congress

Pandering is not exclusive to any one political party.

Case in point: the strained Spanish phrases practiced and repeated by non-Spanish speakers on the campaign trail. Awkward phrasings aside, they are meant to convey an assurance of kinship regardless of whether one actually exists.

Politics is about creating a sense of kinship with voting blocs. It is about coalition building. The Jewish community is a coveted segment of the population, and a valued building block of any political coalition. Since Barack Obama’s election in 2008, when he won about 78 percent of the Jewish vote according to the Pew Research Center, the GOP has been working to chip away at the president’s support from American Jews. Republican attempts to paint Obama as being hostile to Israel is pervasive and well documented, even as it is short on facts and long on obfuscation.

News AnalysisGiven all this, having a Jewish front man – in this case, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) – provides the Republicans with obvious benefits. Yet Cantor, the House majority leader, is a minority of one in Congress, and this, some political observers argue, weakens his usefulness when pitching to Jewish voters.

More pointedly, not only is he the sole Jewish Republican in Congress (out of 289 GOP members in both House and Senate), there are 23 Jewish representatives who sit across the aisle from him in the House (there were 26 when the 112th Congress opened in January 2011) and another 12 in the Senate (13, if you count the halachically Jewish Michael Bennet of Colorado). If the Republican Party is so good for the Jews, why are Jews not good enough for the Republican Party? That is the kind of unspoken thought that confronts Cantor as he seeks to promote a Republican agenda among Jewish voters.

The Republican Party never has been overly endowed with Jewish members of Congress, but neither has it been so bereft of them. For the last 50 years, up until 2009, there always was at least one Jewish Republican senator, for example. That changed when Arlen Specter, the now former senior senator from Pennsylvania, became a Democrat.

The need for Jewish candidates has not been lost on the GOP.

There are now three Jewish candidates running for the Senate. In Hawaii, former Gov. Linda Lingle (the state’s first Jewish governor and an active member of the Republican Jewish Coalition) has won her primary and is seen as a serious contender for the seat now held by the retiring junior senator, Daniel Akaka, a Democrat. Ohio state treasurer Joshua Mandel and Adam Hasner (who is on the board of the Florida-Israel Institute, a legislative creation administered by Florida Atlantic University and Broward College that is designed to strengthen the Sunshine State’s ties to the State of Israel) will be competing for Senate seats in their respective swing states.

Here in New Jersey, Shmuley Boteach (self-proclaimed “America’s Rabbi”) is running against longtime Democratic Rep. William J. Pascrell, Jr., in the newly created 9th Congressional District, demographically speaking a Democratic stronghold. Boteach has been hitting Pascrell hard over a letter the representative signed in 2010 protesting the Gaza blockade, thereby keeping with the GOP strategy of calling into question Democratic support for Israel.

On Long Island’s eastern tip, meanwhile, a Jewish Republican, Randy Altschuler, is running for a seat in Congress in that state’s 1st Congressional District in what has been a swing district in recent elections (the redrawn district is virtually identical to the old 1st C.D.). Altschuler, who lost his first congressional bid two years ago by 593 votes out of nearly 200,000 cast, is one of Eric Cantor’s “Young Guns,” a select group of GOP House hopefuls seen as having a good shot at being elected. The race is competitive; the district is not heavily Jewish, but in a tight race the Jewish vote could make a difference.

To be sure, the list of Jewish candidates running as Republicans is much too short to make a serious dent in Democratic arguments that the GOP is not all that welcoming to Jews, but it is reasonably certain that Cantor’s voice will not be the only Jewish one on the Republican side when the 113th Congress takes its seats in January. That would make the majority leader’s minority status a little less of a cross to bear as he attempts to sway Jewish voters to the Grand Old Party.

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