Jewish Congress members poised to take key leadership roles

There are two new Jewish governors and a first two Muslim women in Congress; a neo-Nazi running in Chicago loses after being disavowed by his party

In this July 29, 2018, photo, Illinois Democratic governor candidate J.B. Pritzker talks with supporters in Geneva, Ill. New Illinois campaign reports show that Pritzker has pumped $146.5 million of his own money into his bid to unseat Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)
In this July 29, 2018, photo, Illinois Democratic governor candidate J.B. Pritzker talks with supporters in Geneva, Ill. New Illinois campaign reports show that Pritzker has pumped $146.5 million of his own money into his bid to unseat Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

JTA — Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections held Tuesday, with Jewish Congress members poised to take key leadership roles. Republicans looked to increase their majority in the Senate.

Five Jewish Democrats are set to chair key House committees, including three representatives from New York: Jerrold Nadler, the Judiciary Committee; Eliot Engel, Foreign Affairs; and Nita Lowey, Appropriations. Adam Schiff of California will head the Intelligence Committee and John Yarmuth of Kentucky will lead the Budget Committee.

Democrat Jared Polis will be the first Jewish and first gay governor of Colorado, and J.B. Pritzker, a Jewish Democrat, will be the next governor of Illinois. And two Jewish military veterans won upset Democratic victories in House races: Max Rose in New York and Elaine Luria in Virginia.

Here are more results in races of significance to Jewish voters:

House of Representatives

In Michigan, Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American, handily won her race in District 13. Tlaib favors a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has opposed U.S. aid to Israel. She will also be one of the first Muslim women in Congress, along with Ilhan Omar, who won in Minnesota.

Michigan Democrat Elissa Slotkin, who was raised on a farm and worked for the CIA, won a seat in the House of Representatives by 49 percent to 48 percent for sitting Republican Rep. Mike Bishop. The district had previously been considered a lock for the Republican party. Bishop conceded in a phone call at about 1 a.m.

And Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive millennial from New York City who won an upset primary win earlier this year, will become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Ocasio-Cortez has criticized Israel’s West Bank occupation and called its clashes with protesters in Gaza a “massacre.”

New York Democratic Congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez embraces a supporter at a polling site after voting, Tuesday Nov. 6, 2018, in the Parkchester community in the Bronx, N.Y. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Leslie Cockburn, the Democratic House candidate who wrote a book sharply criticizing Israel, lost her race in Virginia.

Republicans who charge that the Democratic Party has departed from its pro-Israel bona fides pointed to Cockburn, Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez and Omar as proof.

Rep. Lee Zeldin, one of two Jewish Republicans in the House, fended off a challenge in his New York district by a Jewish Democratic challenger, Perry Gershon. The race on Long Island pitted Zeldin, a staunch supporter of Donald Trump, against an opponent who reviled the president.

The two Democratic military veterans flipped Republican districts. Rose, 31, who won medals for his service as an Army officer in Afghanistan, unseated Republican Rep. Dan Donovan in the New York City borough of Staten Island.

Luria, a Jewish former Navy commander, won her race in a coastal Virginia district that encompasses the Norfolk U.S. Navy base. She once organized a Passover seder on an aircraft carrier.

Dean Phillips, a Jewish Democrat in Minnesota whose father was killed in the Vietnam War before he was born, won his race in a Republican district.

Susan Wild, a Jewish Democrat in Pennsylvania, flipped her Republican district. She became involved in Jewish activism after her son urged her to join a local synagogue. She is on the local Jewish federation’s board of directors.

Lena Epstein, a Jewish businesswoman who invited a defrocked Messianic rabbi to address a rally headlined by Vice President Mike Pence, will lose her House race in Michigan. The result is a Democratic pickup of a House seat. Epstein, a Republican with roots in the suburban Detroit Jewish community, chaired Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign in Michigan.

Lena Epstein greets guests during her campaign office’s grand opening in Commerce Charter Township, Michigan, May 5, 2018. (Rachel Woolf for The Washington Post via Getty Images/via JTA)

In North Carolina, Democrat Kathy Manning, a philanthropist and longtime Jewish organizational leader, lost her House race. She was the first woman to chair the Jewish Federations of North America and was a founder of Prizmah, an umbrella association for Jewish day schools.

Arthur Jones, the neo-Nazi who won the Republican nomination on Chicago’s South Side, lost his race, as expected. He had won his nomination unopposed and was repudiated by his party.

And Steve King, the Iowa Republican who has made headlines recently for his associations with and support of white supremacists, won reelection in a close race. The National Republican Campaign Committee had said it would not support him.


Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, a Democratic pro-Israel stalwart, is projected to win. He voted against the 2015 agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, going against President Barack Obama and his own party. Menendez had been hampered by a corruption trial that ended in mistrial last year.

In Nevada, Democcratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, a former synagogue president and former software developer, was projected to defeat sitting Sen. Dean Heller, the only Democratic pickup in the Senate. In a speech to the Nevada state GOP convention in June, Trump coined the nickname “Wacky Jacky” for the freshman congresswoman.

Governors’ races and ballot initiatives

Democratic candidate for Colorado’s governorship, US Rep. Jared Polis, responds to a question during a televised debate Monday, June 18, 2018, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Pritzker handily won the governor’s race in Illinois, unseating Republican Bruce Rauner. Pritzker, a centrist Democrat, is a billionaire venture capitalist.

Polis, 42, a former tech mogul, will succeed John Hickenlooper as governor of Colorado. His campaign has focused on renewable energy, education and income inequality.

In Florida, Republican Ron DeSantis narrowly beat Democrat Andrew Gillum for the governorship. DeSantis, a close ally of Trump, was a leading voice urging the president to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. He also accused Gillum of being anti-Israel, and Israel featured prominently in one of their debates. An anti-Semitic group also ran a robocall on behalf of DeSantis, which he denounced.

In Florida, voters passed a ballot initiative to restore voting rights to 1.5 million former felons, which could work to Democrats’ advantage in future elections. Jewish groups led the charge to pass the initiative.

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