Daily Kickoff: Key Races to Watch Today


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ELECTION DAY — Voters across the nation are heading to the polls today to elect their representatives for federal and statewide offices. At stake are control of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Democrats, hoping to flip control of Congress, are relying on a series of close-fought races that would indicate the start of a ‘blue wave.’

RACES WE ARE WATCHING — NEW YORK: Rep. Lee Zeldin (R), one of two Jewish Republicans in Congress, is being challenged by Perry Gershon (D) in the 1st Congressional District. Zeldin suggested over the weekend that his rival had defaced his own campaign signs with swastikas to garner sympathy for his campaign.

Max Rose (D) is hoping to deliver on his party’s desire to flip control of the House by beating Rep. Dan Donovan (R), the only NYC Republican. In the 19th District, Rep. John Faso (R) is being challenged by Antonio Delgado, who recently suggested that Israel was not ‘a Jewish democracy’ unless it reaches a peace settlement with the Palestinians. Delgado’s wife Lacy Schwartz released a documentary four years ago that described her Jewish upbringing.

—NY GOV: Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) is running for a third term against Republican Marc Molinaro.

NEW JERSEY: Senator Bob Menendez (D), popular in the pro-Israel community, is trying to overcome a challenge by a self-funded Republican, Bob Hugin. In the 7th Congressional District, Rep. Leonard Lance, a 4-term Republican, is being challenged by former Obama administration official Tom Malinowski, with Israel emerging as a key issue during the campaign. In the 5th District — a district which was won by Trump in 2016 — Rep. Josh Gotthemier, a first-term Democrat, is being challenged by John McCann.

VIRGINIA: Senator Tim Kaine (D) is facing Corey Stewart, a fringe alt-right candidate with anti-Semitic ties. In the 5th Congressional District, Leslie Cockburn (D) and Denver Riggleman (R) are locked into a tight race for the open seat vacated by Rep. Tom Garrett. The Republican Jewish Coalition ran a TV and digital ad campaign against Cockburn, highlighting her recollection of having dinner with Saddam Hussein’s sons and midnight tea with Muammar Gaddafi while she was a journalist for Vanity Fair in her 1998 memoir. Her 1991 book, Dangerous Liaison, has also came under scrutiny for its conspiracy theories regarding Israel.

PENNSYLVANIA: In the 1st Congressional District, Scott Wallace (D), a multi-millionaire philanthropist, is challenging Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R). Wallace came under fire for his support of the BDS movement as head of the Wallace Global Fund.

MICHIGAN: In the 8th Congressional District, Rep. Mike Bishop (R) is being challenged by former Obama administration official Elissa Slotkin. In the 9th District, Andy Levin is running to replace his father Sander Levin, who retired after 18 terms in the House. In the 11th District, Lena Epstein and Haley Stevens are facing off for the open seat of retiring Rep. David Trott (R). If elected, Epstein would be the only Jewish Republican woman in Congress.

CALIFORNIA: In the 48th District, Harley Rouda is running against incumbent Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. Democrats see an opportunity to defeat Rohrabacher, a Kremlin favorite who has been implicated in the Mueller probe and who recently came under fire for attending a fundraiser with an alleged Holocaust denier and endorsing an alt-right activist criticized for anti-Semitism. 

In the 50th Congressional District, Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Republican incumbent under indictment, is being challenged by Ammar Campa-Najjar, a Christian with Palestinian ancestry. Earlier in the year, Campa-Najjar denounced his grandfather Muhammad Yusuf al-Najjar, a mastermind of the 1972 Munich Olympics terror attack which left 11 Israeli athletes dead. In the 52nd District, Omar Qudrat is challenging Rep. Scott Peters, looking to becomethe GOP’s first Muslim-American member of Congress.

TEXAS: Senator Ted Cruz (R) is facing a close reelection fight against Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke. Cruz slammed his rival for accepting campaign contributions from J Street, and called O’Rourke “anti-Israel” for his 2014 vote against funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. In turn, the O’Rourke campaign accused Cruz of voting against more than $22 billion in support to Israel and “regularly [voting]” against Iron Dome funding.

NEVADA: Sen. Dean Heller (R) and Rep. Jacky Rosen, a former synagogue president, are locked in a tough race that could decide control of the Senate.

ARIZONA: Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) is facing off against Rep. Martha McSally (R) for Senator Jeff Flake’s seat. Sinema voted against the Iran deal in 2015, but has come under scrutiny over her past record on Israel.

IOWA: In the 4th Congressional District, Rep. Steve King (R) is facing an unexpected reelection battle over racist remarks and revelations about his association with neo-Nazis. King has been rebuked by his own party, and has come under more scrutiny following the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre.

FLORIDA: Governor Rick Scott (R) is hoping to unseat Senator Bill Nelson (D) in a bid to maintain or even expand GOP control of the Senate. Jewish voters could play a determining factor as polls suggest a dead heat.

—FL GOV: In a heated race for the open seat for governor, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D) is running against Rep. Ron DeSantis (R). The two candidates put a heavy focus on South Florida Jewish voters in the final weeks of the campaign, trading barbs over Israel and anti-Semitism. The latest poll shows Gillum with a slight lead over DeSantis.

COLORADO GOV: Jared Polis (D) is looking to make history by becoming both the first Jewish governor in Colorado and its first openly gay person to serve in the post.

OTHER RACES TO KEEP AN EYE ON — West Virginia Senate: Sen. Joe Manchin vs. Patrick Morrisey (R); Indiana Senate: Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) vs. Mike Braun (R); North Carolina’s 13th District: Kathy Manning (D) vs Rep. Ted Budd (R); Washington’s 8th District: Kim Schrier (D) and Dino Rossi (R); and on the municipal level, San Francisco District 2 Supervisor: Nick Josefowitz (D) vs. John Dennis (R).

— Ron Kampeas’ guide to Jewish House candidates: Democrats and Republicans.

HEARD THIS MORNING — Republican strategist Dan Senor on CBS’s “This Morning” program: “The question is, will the Democrats win big and will it really be a wave? If one party wins more seats, that’s not a wave. A wave is when every close race breaks in one direction. Right now, the way House Republican leaders see it is just basically three categories of House races. There are the seats that Obama won and Hillary [Clinton] won. Take Carlos Curbelo, [Florida’s 26th District] in Southern Florida. Hillary and Obama and Clinton won them by big numbers. If the Republican wins that seat, that’s an early sign of a wave.”

“Kentucky, on the other end, which Trump won and Romney won, in 2012 and 2016. Andy Barr in that district (KY-06). If the Democrats win that seat, that’s an early sign of a wave. And then in the middle is a seat like New York 19… Obama won it once and then Trump won it, both by about six percent each. Those are three categories of races. An Obama-Clinton seat that a Republican seat is holding, an Obama-Trump seat that a Republican is holding, and then a Romney-Trump seat that a Republican is holding. If they all go, we got a wave.”

Senor, who is celebrating his 47th birthday today, added: “In 2012, it was election day on my birthday. On that election, I had to tell Paul Ryan that he wasn’t going to win the vice presidency. That was my birthday gift. I’m hoping for a better night tonight. Not terribly optimistic.”

INSIDE CNN — News outlets prepare for midterm surprises — by Michael Calderone and Jason Schwartz: “CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist‘s… team at CNN… has rehearsed 16 scenarios of what might happen in Tuesday’s midterms. A red wave, a blue wave, a purple ripple — all have been covered in the run-throughs… The only thing that’s the same in each one is that the first polls close at 6 p.m. in eastern Kentucky, prompting discussion of that particular swing race. From there, Feist said, “I have no idea what’s going to happen.” “We’re ready for every outcome,” he said.” [Politico]

Republicans attack Jewish candidates across the U.S. with an age-old caricature: Fistfuls of cash — by Eli Rosenberg: “The ads come as political rhetoric has been examined for what some see as overt signs of classic anti-Semitism, with conspiracy theories about Jewish financier George Soros directing an “invasion” at the southern border becoming a prominent theme in conservative politics in recent weeks.” [WashPost]

HEARD YESTERDAY — Rep. Eliot Engel Pledges Israel Support if Dems Win Midterms — by Jacob Kornbluh: Engel, currently serving as the ranking minority member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is in line to become chair of the prestigious committee if Democrats regain control over the House of Representatives. “I will do what I have done in Congress for the past 30 years. I will stand squarely with Israel, I will stand squarely with the Jewish people,” Engel said during a Luncheon Symposium on Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism, co-hosted by the American Zionist Movement (AZM) and the World Zionist Organization (WZO) in midtown Manhattan on Monday.

“I have spent 30 years in Congress, and I believe that there’s no one in the entire Congress who supports Israel more than I do,” proclaimed Engel, who would serve as a leading Israel and foreign policy voice if he becomes committee chair. “I want to make sure that the alliance between Israel and the United States is so strong that it doesn’t matter who is president or who is prime minister. What matters is the bond between the U.S. and Israel should be strengthened regardless of who gets elected in any particular election.” [JewishInsider]

Can play-by-the-rules Chuck Schumer win on Trump’s turf? — by Ben Terris: “Schumer, like his opponent in the White House, is an outer-borough boy who knows how to make use of the wild New York media market and often seems to care more about his team winning than about ideological purity. But where Trump breaks all the rules of politics, Schumer seems to be guided by them. His mind is filled with poll numbers and focus group responses, more consultant than combatant. Schumer’s supporters say this is what makes him the right man for the job: It will take a strategist to keep the Senate from slipping further from Democratic control.”

“Schumer [has] been spending much of the week surrounded by polling data, powwowing with political staffers and kibitzing with pollsters in preparation for the next most important election of his lifetime. At stake on Tuesday, he said, is nothing less than “the wellspring of democracy and everything that comes with it.” … “It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had, fighting Trump without all the cards,” Schumer said. “Maybe we’ll have more cards in November — God willing.” [WashPost]

INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE — West Wing Insiders Brace for the Mueller Storm — by Gabriel Sherman: “On Friday night, current and former staffers of Donald Trump’s West Wing gathered at Dina Powell’s Manhattan apartment to celebrate Hope Hicks’s 30th birthday… Over cupcakes and wine, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Anthony Scaramucci reminisced about old times with Hicks’s mom, Caye, and her older sister… The party provided a brief respite from the news cycle on the eve of the midterms… “Everyone is resigned to the outcome,” a former West Wing official said.” [VanityFair]

TALK OF THE TOWN — Singer Foundation will give $1M to secure NYC Jewish sites — by Aaron Feis: “The Paul E. Singer Foundation, which regularly supports Jewish causes, is set to provide at least $1 million toward safety reviews and enhanced precautions at synagogues, day schools, and community centers throughout the city, the organization said Monday. “The tragedy in Pittsburgh was a painful reminder of the need to revisit our community’s security needs,” said the organization’s billionaire benefactor, hedge fund manager Paul Singer.

The seven-figure sum to seed the program will be gifted to the United Jewish Appeal – Federation of New York, which will in turn disburse funds as needed to individual institutions seeking to enhance their security measures. UJA Federation of New York CEO Eric Goldstein thanked the foundation “for their commitment to local Jewish institutions on this critical issue.” [NYPost]

HEARD YESTERDAY — Israeli Consul General Dani Dayan at the AZM event in Manhattan: “If Never Again is not a shallow cliche, Again is now, and Never should be remembered right now. I am not suggesting we are in Germany of the 1930’s… But there is one difference between us and our brethren then, and the difference is that now we are experienced… Therefore we should demand from leaders, if you say Never Again, act and act now.”

Some Hispanics With Jewish Roots Pursue an Exit Strategy: Emigrate to Spain — by Simon Romero: “The Spanish law allows applicants to pursue citizenship by proving that they have at least one Sephardic ancestor who fled Spain some 500 years ago. New Mexico, with its wealth of colonial-era archives and United States census data after the American conquest in 1848, stands out for its relative ease of delving into records compared with other places where so-called crypto-Jews settled.” [NYTimes]

DRIVING THE CONVO — Behnam Ben Taleblu writes… “With U.S. sanctions back in effect, Iran likely to bide its time: There is a growing consensus among analysts that Tehran will likely attempt to wait out the Trump administration and refrain from breaching the nuclear deal. Should Tehran hunker down and play for time, the Trump administration will need to find creative ways to tighten the sanctions belt such that time will cost the regime money, and lots of it.” [Axios]

Eytan Gilboa“The Iranian leadership believes that if the Democrats win the midterm elections, they would limit new possible initiatives Trump might wish to take against the Islamic Republic, and so Tehran would only have to hold on for two years against the sanctions. After that, a Democrat might get elected to the White House and completely change the American attitude towards Iran… If the Republicans win and maintain control over both houses of Congress—consequently bolstering Trump ahead of the 2020 presidential elections—Iran would have to turn to other options.”

PIC OF THE DAY — Israel’s Minister of Energy Yuval Shteinitz talking with Reuters reporter Dan Williams while they dip their feet in the Sea of Galilee. H/T Tal Shalev

TALK OF THE REGION — Israel-Arab ties warm up after long deep freeze — by Yolande Knell: “Late last month, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife met the Sultan of Oman on a surprise, eight-hour visit – the first of its kind in over two decades. There was a lavish dinner, traditional Omani music and what Mr. Netanyahu told his Cabinet were “very important talks,” promising more trips would follow… Now, the transportation minister is in the Omani capital, Muscat, proposing a railway between Israel and Arab countries. All this despite the fact that Israel has no official diplomatic relations with Oman or the UAE.” [BBC]

Trump’s Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt tweeted yesterday: “Today Transportation & Intelligence Minister Israel Katz is in Oman at an international transportation event. He will present a plan for the construction of a railway between Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia & the Gulf. Let’s keep the dialogue going. These efforts support our efforts.”

** Good Tuesday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email Editor@JewishInsider.com **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Asia ‘woke up’ and Israeli tech companies see opportunities [CNBC] • Israeli automotive chip developer Valens raises $63 million [Reuters] • Henry Kissinger ‘Fairly Optimistic’ China, U.S. Can Avoid Catastrophe [Bloomberg] • Craig Newmark on founding & scaling profitable legend Craigslist with dogged dedication to customer service & no VC [ThisWeekInStartups] • Two Royal Millennials Have Been Given the Keys to a $320 Billion Fund [Bloomberg

STARTUP NATION — Inside the Israeli Blockchain Company That Wants to (Sort of) Reinvent the Marketplace — by Jeff Wilser: “In 2017, or a decade ago in crypto-years, Bancor raised a then-record $153 million through an ICO, with a promise of doing something new and different. They would be a crypto exchange. Yet the world has plenty of exchanges—theirs would be decentralized, one which never holds the assets of buyers and sellers, and thus immune to the kind of hacks that befall traditional marketplaces. Yet Bancor planned to be more than that, even—they would be a marketplace that is not really a marketplace: one that doesn’t need to connect buyers and sellers at the same time, but instead, through the magic of their algorithm, creates a kind of Crypto Vending Machine that converts your Coin A into Coin B… even if it’s 4 a.m.”[BreakerMag]

MEDIA WATCH — Edward Felsenthal Named Chief Executive of Time Magazine: “Four days after Salesforce co-founder Marc Benioff and his wife Lynne Benioff closed on their purchase of Time magazine from Meredith Corp., the new owners named Edward Felsenthal chief executive of the publication and said he would continue as editor in chief. Mr. Felsenthal, 52 years old, will oversee all of Time’s editorial and business efforts, including advertising…” [WSJ]

Debra Birnbaum Departing Variety for Amazon: “Variety Executive Editor Debra Birnbaum will be leaving her post of four and a half years to join Amazon as director of awards… Birnbaum has led Variety’s TV team and coverage since joining the news organization in 2014… Birnbaum will begin her tenure at Amazon on Dec. 3.” [Variety]

Tunisia’s PM reshuffles cabinet to tackle economic crisis — by Tarek Amara: “Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed named 10 new ministers on Monday in a cabinet reshuffle… Chahed named Jewish businessman Rene Trabelsi as minister of tourism in the Muslim Arab country, only the third member of the small minority of 2,000 Jews to enter a cabinet since Tunisia’s independence in 1956.” [Reuters]

Michael Cohen rescues elderly man in Upper East Side restaurant — by Emily Smith: “Diners at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s swanky Upper East Side restaurant JoJo were amazed to see Cohen — Trump’s former personal attorney — jump up to catch an elderly man as he fell while passing his table. A witness told us that as Cohen was dining with his own personal lawyer, David Schwartz, “a man with a cane was passing their table and lost his balance. The man was about to hit his head on the table when Michael caught him, and may have saved his life, hugged him and put him back on his feet.” [PageSix]

BIRTHDAYS: Businessman, political advisor and author of Start-Up Nation, Dan Senor turns 47… Belgian theoretical physicist, a Holocaust survivor and 2013 Nobel prize laureate, François Englert turns 86… Former president and CEO of American Jewish World Service (1998-2016), prior to that she served as the Manhattan borough president, Ruth Messinger turns 78… Former chairman of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (2002-2011) and Vice Chair of NYC’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (2006-2012), Andrew Saul turns 72… Former aide to President Bill Clinton and a long-time advisor to Hillary Clinton, Sidney Blumenthal turns 70… Research scientist at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, Barbara Volsky turns 68…

Actress best known for her lead role in the 1984 film “Footloose” and the television series “Fame,” Lori Singer turns 61… COO/Managing Director of the NFL Players Association, Ira Fishman turns 61… Founder of Nourish Snack, she is the health and nutrition expert on The Today Show and author of 13 New York Times best sellers, Joy Bauer turns 55… COO at Santander Bank since 2015, following 20 years at various affiliates of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Andrew S. Weinberg turns 55… Former Vice Chairman and CEO of Genie Oil E&P and CEO of Genie Israel Holdings Ltd., he was previously Chairman and CEO of IDT Energy, Geoffrey Rochwarger turns 48… South Florida entrepreneur, Earl J. Campos-Devine


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