The Army Pilot, Married to a Rabbi, Seeking Corker’s Seat

WASHINGTON – By most measures, the southern state of Tennessee would appear to be a significant challenge for any Democrat in the upcoming 2018 U.S. Senate race. The governor, both houses of Tennessee’s state legislature, and the two U.S. Senators are all in Republican hands. Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by a 26% margin in last year’s election. Nonetheless, with incumbent Senator Bob Corker announcing his retirement last month — the chances for any new candidate slightly rose. It is into this vacuum that James Mackler has emerged: a Jewish Army veteran during the war in Iraq who, if elected, would likely be the first U.S. Senator married to a Rabbi.

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Mackler — citing inspiration from his grandfather who fought in World War II — left his law practice and enlisted in the U.S. Army at the age of 30. “I felt the way that my grandfather and his generation must have felt.  I felt this calling to serve. I had to do more,” Mackler explained in an interview with Jewish Insider. The former attorney served as a blackhawk pilot for the 101st Airborne Division before departing to Iraq in 2005. “I got a real first hand look at a country (Iraq) that became so divided and tribal and essentially came apart.”.

Now as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, Mackler uses similar language when describing his own country and his decision to run for Corker’s seat. “Seeing how tribal and divided our country has become… I had to be an example for my community as someone who is willing to work across political boundaries to accomplish a mission.” As part of the divide, Mackler specifically cited the four times his children were evacuated from their Jewish day school due to bomb threats and he explained how that further motivated his desire to seek public office.

After his deployment to Iraq, Mackler says he was looking to reconnect with his Jewish faith. He attended a service at the Reform Temple Ohabai Sholom in Nashville where he met his wife, Shana Goldstein Mackler, a Rabbi at the Synagogue. In 2016, The Forward, a Jewish newspaper, selected her as one of the most inspiring Rabbis of 2016. Describing his wife’s  responsibilities as a religious leader, candidate Mackler added, “If I can serve my community as a U.S. Senator, half as well as my wife serves her community as a member of the clergy, I will be doing great.”

Mackler ties his military service to his support for the U.S. – Israel relationship. “As someone who joined the Army after 9/11 at a time of conflict, I have tremendous respect for Israelis who serve universally understanding for them there is always an existential threat to their nation. The fact that the US has such a strong democratic partner in the Middle East is so meaningful to me as a Jew and also as a service member and as a American.”

While Rep. David Kuster (R-TN), one of two Jewish Republican members of Congress, has been named as a potential Senate candidate, Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) is considered the more likely GOP nominee. Mackler charged that “Marsha Blackburn voted for a bill that would remove health care from millions of America.”

At the same time, Mackler offered a nuanced view about the outgoing Republican Tennessee Senator. “I have the highest praise for Senator Corker for going to Washington and doing what he believed was best for our nation. I disagree with much that I did, but I respect him for doing it.”

If elected to the Senate, Mackler says he will try to apply the lessons he learned from serving overseas given the partisan gridlock across Washington. He recalled a mission in Iraq flying deep into the night when his helicopter inadvertently entered a dust storm.  With poor visibility and 150 miles per hour velocity, the U.S. servicemen faced considerable danger. “I didn’t know or care whether the people around me were Democrats or Republicans, none of that mattered. We were there to protect one another and survive,” he explained. “Those are the kinds of situations that soldiers understand extremely well: to work with whoever you have to and get the job done, but politicians seem to have forgotten that.”

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