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Israeli-born Merav Ben-David fails in Wyoming Senate bid

University of Wyoming ecology professor and climate activist was the first Israeli to win a major party nomination for a Senate seat

Merav Ben-David poses for a photo in Cheyenne, Wyoming, August 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Mead Gruver)
Merav Ben-David poses for a photo in Cheyenne, Wyoming, August 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Mead Gruver)

Republican Cynthia Lummis, a former congresswoman, has won an open Senate seat in Wyoming, beating out Israel-born Merav Ben-David, the AP projected late Tuesday

Ben-David, 61, a University of Wyoming ecology professor and climate activist, had been the first Israeli to win a major party nomination for a Senate seat, albeit in deeply red Wyoming.

Lummis will claim the seat held by Republican Sen. Mike Enzi, who’s retiring after four terms.

Lummis was heavily favored to win in the GOP-dominated state after raising and spending far more money than her Democratic opponent.

Wyoming Rep. Cynthia Lummis announces she will not seek a fifth term in 2016 during a news conference at the state capitol in Cheyenne, Wyoming, November 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Mead Gruver, File)

A former state treasurer and state legislator, Lummis comes from a prominent Cheyenne ranching family and has been well-known in Wyoming politics for over 30 years. She was Wyoming’s lone congresswoman from 2009 to 2017, when she stepped down to attend to family business matters following her husband’s death.

Democrats advising Ben-David — including Gary Trauner, a Jewish businessman who ran for Senate in Wyoming in 2018 and twice lost House races there, including to Lummis in 2008 — advised her to make appearances across Wyoming, especially by going to rodeos, a popular pastime in the Western state.

But the pandemic prevented that. “They were all canceled,” she said earlier this year. “I’ve been to rodeos before but not as part of campaigning.”

Instead, Ben-David waged a digital campaign that included a promotional video showcasing her flying in a helicopter and walking in the woods, interspersed with clips of animals and Wyoming’s natural features. Her campaign logo included the silhouette of a bison.

Ben-David comes from a family whose roots in Israel predate the state; her family arrived from Belarus in the 1860s, making her siblings’ grandchildren seventh-generation Israelis. She grew up in a small family farm outside of Rishon Lezion and earned degrees in zoology and wildlife management in Tel Aviv and Alaska before moving to Laramie in 2000 to become an assistant professor at the University of Wyoming. She has been a professor since 2010, a year after becoming a full US citizen.

Ben-David’s research over the years includes studying how polar bears are responding to climate change.

In an interview earlier this month with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Ben-David said she thought the coronavirus pandemic created an opportunity for her message about the need to transition to an economy that is less reliant on fossil fuels to resonate. About half of Wyoming’s revenue comes from oil and gas and industries associated with them.

“I think there is a chance and this year, if you think about it, is especially strange,” she said. “With COVID-19 [there is a] realization that we need to pay more attention to science.”

Wyoming, America’s least populous state, is home to an estimated 1,150 Jews. In Laramie, where Ben-David lives, a small Jewish community is composed mostly of people who, like her, are associated with the university there. She said she has come to play a unique role in local gatherings.

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