Why it could be a record year for Jews in the US Congress

Analysis

This year could bring a record number of Jews into the US Senate and House of Representatives — and some could come from surprising quarters.

Come November 2008, Alaska’s tiny Jewish community — estimates run from 3,000 to 5,000, with most living in the state’s largest city of Anchorage — might be sending its second-ever representative to Capitol Hill. A leading Democratic contender, Ethan Berkowitz is lagging not far behind the main Republican challenger.

Another Jewish Democratic candidate, Bob Lord, running in an Arizona district, could also turn heads as the man to knock out the Republican currently holding John McCain’s old seat.

The mid-term 2006 elections produced a record 43 Jewish legislators in Congress — 30 in the House and 13 in the Senate. Of these, 42 remain today on Capitol Hill — equal to the previous record set in the early 1990s.

The death of Congressman Tom Lantos, one of the most distinguished members of the House and a leading voice on human rights and on the strengthening of US-Israel ties, removed one prominent member from the Jewish column.

The woman who will most probably succeed him, Jackie Speier, is not Jewish (although she does have a Jewish grandfather). Thus, the Jewish group will need at least two new members in order to break the 2006 record — providing that it does not lose anyone else. Whether this will happen depends mainly on one factor: how big the Democratic victory will be.

Fourteen Democratic candidates were added last week to a Congressional Campaign Committee programme called Red to Blue. This means that the Democrats believe that these races — most were seen in the past as long-shots — can become competitive. This looks like a sign of self-confidence and reflects the tendency among political experts and activists to anticipate a “Democratic tsunami” in the elections.

As for the race in Arizona’s “third district” between Republican John Shadegg — seeking his eighth term — and Democrat Bob Lord, The Hill newspaper predicted that the seat “looks far from safe” for the Republicans: “That is John McCain’s old House seat, for crying out loud!” Even the seat previously occupied by the presidential nominee of the Republican Party is no longer safe.

Lord is serving on the board of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix. He could help set the new Jewish record, along with Howard Shanker of Arizona, John Adler of New Jersey, even Gary Trauner of Wyoming. Normally, no sane person would argue that a Democrat can win in Wyoming. But Trauner lost the 2006 race by only 1,012 votes. It appears he can win even in this conservative state.

Eight to nine Jews could gain seats, and three to four risk losing theirs. In the House, a couple of gains are plausible. The number of Jewish Senators will not change, as in both races in which Jewish Senators are in danger of losing, the contenders are also Jewish. A new record is on the cards.

Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz chief US correspon-dent, writes at www.rosnersdomain.com

    Last updated: 4:55pm, June 27 2008