In New York City’s only purple district, a first-term incumbent is in jeopardy
In an email to supporters this week, Rep. Max Rose’s (D-NY) campaign manager admitted that the first-term congressman’s seat in New York’s 11th congressional district is in danger of flipping.
“In the past few weeks alone, political experts at Roll Call, CNN, and now the National Journal have singled Max out as one of the most vulnerable incumbents anywhere in the country,” read the message. A similar email, sent out by the campaign of Nicole Malliotakis read, “Roll Call named Max Rose the 3rd most vulnerable member of the House.”
The emails underscore just how close the race has become in recent weeks ahead of Rose’s first reelection battle. The 11th district is considered the most conservative part of New York City — won by President Donald Trump in 2016 by 10 points — and one of the couple dozen districts the Cook Political Reportrates a “toss-up.”
A NBC4/Marist poll released on Monday showed a neck-and-neck race, consistent with polling in recent weeks.
In a recent interview with Jewish Insider, Rose, a Purple Heart recipient and National Guard veteran of the war in Afghanistan, said he tries not to pay attention to the polls, instead choosing to focus on serving “the interests of my community, according to my own values and according to my never-ending commitment to give everything for this country, including my life. I will give my life to this country. I’m a patriot through and through.”
Ultimately, Rose believes that Republican and Democratic voters alike will appreciate that, despite his membership in the Democratic caucus, he “has been willing to stand up to both parties” when he thinks things in Washington are heading in the wrong direction.
Rose also prides himself on standing up for what he believes is right, regardless of which party originated the idea or legislation. He pointed to his support of Trump’s executive order to combat antisemitism on campus, issued last December, and his approval of the targeted killing of Qassim Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, earlier this year, as instances where he chose values over politics.
An elected official “can’t be thinking about parties, the polls, the next election and what your donors want,” Rose explained. “That very false commitment is why people hate politics. And when we talk about changing politics, that’s what we have to change.”
Malliotakis contested Rose’s effort to portray himself as an independent by highlighting his vote to impeach Trump as well as backing he received from a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). “It’s very disingenuous to tell the community that you are independent when you turn around and go to Washington and vote [96%] of time with Nancy Pelosi, including for the most partisan measure we’ve seen in years — which is the impeachment vote against the president,” Malliotakis told JI.
She further suggested Pelosi’s investment on behalf of Rose — who voted against Pelosi in her bid for House speaker last year — is an attempt to “save him because she wants to keep him as a rubber stamp” in Washington.
Outside political groups have been pouring millions into the race for the swing-district seat — adding to the string of attack ads the two candidates have aired. Rose outraised his opponent 3-to-1, raking in about $8.3 million, according to recent FEC filings.
In the interview with JI, Rose avoided attacking his opponent — a pivot away from campaign ads and viral campaign clips that targeted Malliotakis. “Service is a privilege for me,” Rose explained. “I count my lucky stars for the love and the support of my family and the commitment that the community has shown towards building a better country, and I just strive to be there for them. That brings great joy and a great sense of fulfillment.”
Both candidates have strong ties to the Jewish community and enjoy a nearly even amount of support among members of the large Sephardic segment of the community in the portion of the district that lies in Brooklyn, according to conversations with a handful of constituents.
For Rose’s supporters, his record speaks for itself. In his short time in Congress, the Democratic congressman has stood out as a staunch supporter of Israel and an important voice in the effort to combat rising antisemitism, which has included speaking out against controversial language used by members of his own party.
Rose has also earned points in the Orthodox Jewish community — which has aligned more with the Republican Party in recent years — by supporting the president’s executive order to protect Jewish college students, inviting the administration’s antisemitism envoy to the district and being openly critical of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Jack Ashkenazie, a community activist in Brooklyn, told JI that as a member of Congress, Rose “has shown his support for the issues that are important to us, and it’s prudent for us to support moderate Democrats who share our values.”
Ashkenazie, a registered Republican, said that the community is split in its support for Rose, largely because of his vote on impeachment. While the Sephardic Community Federation, based in South Brooklyn, endorsed a number of candidates for state office, it chose not to endorse either Rose or Malliotakis. Similarly, it did not make an endorsement in the presidential race.
But Ashkenazie said he’d vote for Rose as the incumbent, calling him “a staunch leader within his own party on the issues that affect us.”
“I can vote for President Trump, and I can also vote for Max Rose,” Ashkenazie told JI, “because it’s the right thing to do.”
Malliotakis has represented parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island in the New York State Assembly since 2010. She also ran for mayor in the 2017 election, losing to De Blasio by nearly 40 points, but winning her home borough. Malliotakis first visited Israel in 2019 with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Former New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind told JI that he chose to endorse Malliotakis to take a stance against the rise in antisemitism, because when it comes to support for Israel, both candidates are on the same page. Hikind — who is not a resident of the district — suggested the incumbent hasn’t been forceful enough, just “fulfilling the most minimum requirements” to challenge the progressive members of his party.
“These days are different from normal days. During a time of unprecedented antisemitism, when people are concerned about their future, we need people who are dedicated and devoted to fight antisemitism and hate,” he explained. “And especially someone like Rose, with his background — he’s no pushover. He has a strong personality, he could have done so much more within the Democratic Party to take a stand against the hate that exists in that party.”
Malliotakis criticized Rose for not condemning Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) comments last year comparing ICE’s detention facilities to concentration camps. “To this day, I have not heard him condemn that,” Malliotakis told JI, adding that last year, Rose called Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), whose controversial comments about pro-Israel legislators drew widespread ire and sparked a congressional resolution condemning antisemitism, a “friend” with whom he “shares values.”
“Voters in this district deserve to know what values he’s referring to,” she said.
In a statement to JI, Rose said, “No one should compare anything to the atrocities of the Holocaust,” adding, “Nicole [Malliotakis] lacking the self-awareness to realize how offensive it is to lecture a Jew about the Holocaust demonstrates exactly who she is and why she doesn’t belong anywhere near Congress.”
In a recent letter of support for Rose, more than two dozen prominent members of the Jewish community in Brooklyn — including a number of Republicans — noted that “electing a Republican to Congress will guarantee that our voice remains in the minority for the coming years. Max unequivocally supports every piece of legislation promoting the US-Israel relationship, and we should support those who are fighting to keep the Democrat party firmly pro-Israel.”
But for some, Rose doesn’t deserve credit for the diplomatic successes of the Trump administration when it comes to Israel.
“To give him any credit for anything that happened to Israel in the last two years, while Trump was in office, it would be akin to thanking Pharaoh for letting the Jews out of Egypt,” Morris Benun, a local activist supporting Malliotakis, told JI.
In his interview with JI, Rose maintained that his support for Israel is absolute, regardless of who sits in the White House or has a majority in the House, pointing out that he’s a lead sponsor of a bipartisan House resolution that expresses support for the recently signed Abraham Accords. “It’s got to be ‘country first.’ You cannot be blinded by partisanship,” he explained. “When we change those two things, we will dramatically fix our politics for the better. And I believe with all my heart and soul, that that is the direction we’re gonna take this country.”
“That’s why I’m in Congress to focus on things like this. This is why I’m there,” Rose added.
Rose has put his bipartisan credentials on display as a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of 50 Republican and Democratic legislators who meet regularly and work to craft legislation that can garner support from both parties.
Asked whether she would join the bipartisan panel if elected to Congress, Malliotakis was noncommittal. “I’ll certainly look into it, but I have to learn more about every caucus and what they stand for” before making a decision, she said.
But she was quick to point out that as a minority member of the New York State Assembly, “I’ve been willing to cross party lines and work with my colleagues to achieve positive things, but at the same time, I’m going to hold anybody who is going to be hurting the people in my district accountable.”
Malliotakis was also reluctant to point to instances where she would stand with a future President Joe Biden if they are both elected next month. “We haven’t really heard much from Joe Biden, other than he is not going to support law and order fully, and that he’s going to raise taxes. But I think one example, both [candidates] said they want to preserve [health care] coverage for pre-existing conditions. That’s something that I agree with,” she said.
Rose told JI he does not regret the positions he’s taken during his first term in office, even if he loses his reelection bid. “You have got to do what’s right for the country, you have to do what’s right for the community, you have to uphold your values, and you have to uphold the Constitution.”
Can Marilyn Strickland make history in the Pacific Northwest?
In Washington’s 10th congressional district, two Democratic candidates are competing to succeed outgoing Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA) in a race that is viewed as representative of the growing ideological rift between moderates and progressives.
Marilyn Strickland, the former mayor of Tacoma, has earned establishment support from local and national leaders, among them two former Washington governors as well as Reps. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). Most recently, she was CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, where she led the opposition to a head tax on businesses that her opponent holds up as evidence of Strickland’s fealty to corporate interests.
Meanwhile, Beth Doglio, a community organizer and climate activist who serves in the Washington House of Representatives, has pulled in endorsements from labor groups along with progressive stalwarts like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).
“We are running a very good campaign that highlights the differences between myself and my opponent,” Doglio, 55, told Jewish Insider in a recent interview, arguing that her support for such progressive policies as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal stands in contrast to Strickland’s more measured approach to healthcare and the environment.
But in conversation with JI, Strickland rejected the notion that she is on the moderate end of a binary that many have put forth, she suggested, to create false distinctions.
“We love labels because it makes it easy,” Strickland, 58, said in a phone interview earlier this month. “As a woman who is Black and Korean, I’ve been labeled my entire life, or people have been trying to assign a label to me. My lane is left-of-center. There are times when I am very progressive on issues, and there are times when I’m more moderate — it really depends on the needs of the people that I want to represent.”
On Israel and the Middle East, however, both candidates seem to hold relatively similar views that are common among the vast majority of Democrats. Strickland and Doglio both support rejoining the Iran nuclear deal and back a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Neither candidate has been to Israel, but each expressed a strong desire to visit if elected to Congress. Both say that they do not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, though the candidates speak differently about the reasoning behind their decisions.
While Strickland worries that BDS could cause damage to Israel’s economy, she believes that it has failed to gain enough traction to do so. Her larger concern is that the movement “paints an inaccurate picture of Israeli life,” she told JI. “It’s antisemitic.”
For her part, Doglio also firmly renounced the movement. “I don’t support what BDS stands for because it would eliminate the Jewish state, which is not a two-state solution,” she said matter-of-factly. Still, Doglio noted that even though she won’t back the movement, she respects BDS as an organizational effort given her background in community activism. “It’s hard for me to take tools out of the toolbox for people who feel strongly about something,” she said.
According to Doglio, many activists in the Evergreen State are supportive of BDS, which she described as a “tough issue” in her community because of a young Washington native, Rachel Corrie, who in 2003 was killed by an Israeli military bulldozer while defending Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip. Though a court ruled in 2012 that Israel was not at fault for Corrie’s death — and an appeal also was later rejected — Doglio said the issue is still a raw one at the local level.
“There’s a strong BDS presence in Washington because of that,” she told JI.
Doglio said she has had several discussions with community members as part of an evolving effort to better understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “There is not a consensus around what a solution looks like,” she said. “The range of views on that within the Jewish community is big, and so I’ve been taking that in and learning as much as I can.”
Doglio, whose Jewish husband has family in Israel, described her “strong connection” to the Jewish state despite never having visited. Doglio said she met with AIPAC about the possibility of going this past December but wasn’t able to make it happen. She told JI that it would be a priority if she is elected.
Strickland, though, is the candidate who appears to have garnered more support from the pro-Israel community. Last month, she earned an endorsement from the grassroots advocacy group Pro-Israel America, whose executive director, Jeff Mendelsohn, described Strickland as a “strong champion of the U.S.-Israel relationship” in a statement to JI. “There has never been a more critical moment to elect officials to Congress who support clear and consistent pro-U.S.-Israel policies.”
In her interview with JI, Strickland made clear that she was committed unequivocally to such policies, which she came to support after having spent time with members of the Jewish community in Washington who are pro-Israel. “It has just given me the opportunity to learn a lot more about the history,” she said.
“I have an understanding now that the U.S. and Israel have a deep and abiding commitment to supporting democracies around the world,” she said. “This is a very special relationship between the two nations, and it’s important to strengthen this relationship, to partner, to ensure that we are sharing our goals of peace and free speech and democracy.”
Her own identity as a Black and Korean woman, she added, has led her to feel a “shared experience of bigotry and prejudice” with the Jewish people as antisemitism is on the rise. “We just want to make sure that, as I have the chance to serve in Congress, my door will always be open,” she said, “and I’m going to be a friend of Israel and a friend of people who want to support Israel.”
“At the end of the day, we all want peace and prosperity, and that is both for Israel and for the Palestinians,” Strickland said, noting that that she was currently reading Yossi Klein Halevi’s Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor to gain more insight into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Jessyn Farrell, a member of Seattle’s Jewish community and a former state representative, said that Strickland brought a similar sense of care to her position as Tacoma’s mayor. “She’s been a real leader on issues that Jewish community leaders have focused on,” said Farrell, who has endorsed Strickland.
According to Farrell, gun violence is a major concern among Washington Jews after a deadly shooting at the Seattle Jewish Federation in 2006 — and as mayor, Strickland passed a resolution supporting universal background checks that Farrell found reassuring. Shortly after President Donald Trump’s election, Farrell recalled, Strickland also reintroduced a resolution to reaffirm Tacoma’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“It was important to me to make sure that the people of the city I represented understood that we were not going to waver on treating all people with respect and dignity,” Strickland said.
Doglio, who lives in Olympia, has served as a state legislator since 2017 and for the past 13 years has been a senior advisor and campaign director for Climate Solutions, a nonprofit advocating for clean energy. She announced her bid for Congress in February, joining a crowded primary election.
Strickland would be the first Black representative from the Pacific Northwest and also the first Korean-American woman in Congress if she prevails on November 3. Born in Seoul, Strickland moved to Tacoma with her family in the late 1960s. She was on the Tacoma City Council before being elected as the city’s mayor in 2010 and served in that role until 2018. She announced her candidacy in December 2019, shortly after the incumbent, Denny Heck, said he would retire.
The candidates are vying to represent a district in the western portion of the state that includes the capital of Olympia. There is scant polling in the race, though one internal survey conducted in late August for Strickland’s campaign suggests that she is the favorite, leading Doglio by a margin of 21 percentage points.
“I feel like, win or lose, we’ve raised really, really important issues,” Doglio told JI.
Michael McCann, a professor in the department of political science at the University of Washington, said that Doglio’s support from organized labor has helped her stand apart from Strickland, whose ties to business when she led the Seattle Chamber of Commerce have been an issue in the race.
“That said, the difference on policy issues and ideology are not great,” McCann told JI in an email, “a moderate progressive vs. more progressive.”
Lee Zeldin contrasts Trump’s record on Israel with Obama’s in reelection pitch
A second Donald Trump administration would “do even more to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Israel,” Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) said in a pitch to participants at a virtual candidate forum hosted by the Orthodox Union on Wednesday, highlighting the administration’s Mideast policy achievements.
Zeldin praised the Trump administration’s record on Israel, contrasting it with the way the Obama administration handled the U.S.-Israel relationship since he entered Congress in 2015.
“Finally our country was starting to treat Israel like Israel and Iran like Iran, and I do not want to go back to my experience of my first term,” Zeldin, who is running for reelection in New York’s 1st congressional district,, told the group. “I would love to see us build on his progress.”
“Israelis know that President Trump has had their back every step of the way,” Zeldin continued “Just think of the possibilities if President Trump has four more years in office. Because, with President Trump, he does not wake up the next day and look to just move on to the next unrelated battle. When he scores a win, he asks himself and asks his advisors, ‘What else can we do?’ That’s why we’ve had so many successes in strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship — because the president wakes up the next day saying that he wants to accomplish even more.”
Earlier this week, the OU hosted a conversation with surrogates from former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.
In a separate Zoom call hosted by the Biden campaign on Wednesday, Israeli-American mogul Haim Saban said Trump’s moves on Israel were largely symbolic. He compared the Jerusalem embassy move to a “bar mitzvah,” noting that only one country, Guatemala, followed the U.S. lead and moved its embassy to Jerusalem.
Another Central American country, Honduras, is expected to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem before the end of the year, according to a social media post from Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández last month.
Saban was also skeptical that the president’s withdrawal from the Iran deal had bolstered Israel’s security.
“In the test of results — where are we from a security standpoint — we have Iran opening a new front against Israel from Syria and we have Iran with three times more enriched uranium,” Saban explained. “You draw your own conclusion.”
Saban, who has maintained close ties with Trump’s son-in-law and White House senior advisor Jared Kushner and reportedly helped broker the recent normalization deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, suggested that the president was only a participant of a “photo op” and did not deserve credit for the Abraham Accords. “All the credit should really be going here to Jared Kushner and [Mideast peace envoy] Avi Berkowitz, who worked really hard on it,” Saban said.
After staying on the sidelines during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, Saban, a major Democratic donor and bundler, endorsed Biden in September, hosting a virtual fundraiser in support of the Democratic nominee.
Highlighting Biden’s longstanding support for Israel, Saban said, “The facts speak for themselves. Facts, you know, are a very stubborn thing. Look at the track record. Andall Jews in America [who] care about the U.S.-Israel alliance know that they can sleep peacefully as far as Israel’s security goes under a Biden presidency.”
Cardin assures Orthodox Jewish community: Biden would be a ‘trusted ally’ on Israel
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) assured members of the Orthodox Jewish community on Monday that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden would be a “true trusted ally” who would use his long-standing relationships and credibility amongst world players to “always stand by Israel. Cardin was speaking as a campaign surrogate at a virtual candidate forum hosted by the Orthodox Union, one of two events hosted by the group this week featuring representatives from the presidential campaigns.
A poll, conducted for the American Jewish Committee between September 9 and October 4 with a margin of error of ±4.2%, showed Jewish voters — by a margin of 75-22 — favor Biden over President Donald Trump in the presidential race. The survey, however, showed Trump earning the support of 75% of Orthodox Jews, with Biden receiving only 18%.
Asked how a Biden administration would differ from the Obama administration, Cardin told the group that the former vice president “will never be a mystery” to the pro-Israel community. In a Biden-Harris administration, the Maryland senator suggested, “there will never be a question about U.S. support for Israel. But there will be candid discussions as to what are the best strategies in order to keep [the U.S.-Israel] relationship strong and to protect Israel’s security.”
According to the AJC poll, which was conducted by phone and had a sample size of 1,334, American Jews believe Biden would be better suited to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship by a margin of 12%. Still 42% approve of Trump’s handling of relations with the Jewish state.
“I’m sure he will disagree with some decisions made by the State of Israel, but Joe Biden would never compromise the security of Israel, or the basic commitments that we’ve made towards Israel’s security — I am convinced about that,” Cardin stressed. “Joe Biden has said so, and Joe Biden is a person of his word. When Joe Biden tells you something, you know, that he’ll live by those words. His credibility, his honesty is beyond any question. And you’ll have a true friend in the White House.”
Cardin, who voted against the nuclear deal with Iran in 2015, defended Biden’s current position on the Iranian threat, saying that he’s right in pointing out that Trump’s withdrawal from the international accord has made the U.S. “less safer.” Cardin said that by leaving the JCPOA, the U.S. “lost a key vote in the United Nations on the [arms] embargo against Iran.”
On the Zoom call, Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) pointed to the rise in antisemitism, saying that “Biden is committed to continuing to protect our Jewish communities, whether through nonprofit security grants… establishing a faith-based law enforcement program dedicated to preventing attacks against houses of worship, strengthening prosecutions of hate crimes, or combating antisemitism abroad.”
The OU will hold a call with a Trump campaign surrogate Wednesday evening.
New Mace campaign poll shows statistical tie in SC race
A new internal poll shows Republican state Rep. Nancy Mace and incumbent Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC) in a statistical tie in South Carolina’s 1st congressional district, despite some indications that the race has been trending toward Cunningham.
The poll of 400 likely voters, conducted by landline and cellphone calls between Oct. 14 and 16, showed Mace with support from 47% of likely voters, compared to Cunningham’s 45%. The poll had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
This poll is a welcome sign for Mace compared to another internal poll three weeks ago, which showed Mace 6 points behind Cunningham, according to a polling memo shared with JI. Yet another poll, commissioned by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committeereleased last week, gave Cunningham a whopping 13-point lead.
Gibbs Knotts, a political science professor at the College of Charleston, told Jewish Insider last week that he expects the final race to be close, predicting a single-digit margin of victory for Cunningham.
The new polling numbers also arrive shortly after Mace announced strong third-quarter fundraising, beating Cunningham by $500,000 and giving her a $500,000 cash-on-hand advantage heading into the race’s final weeks.
First-term Cunningham gains upper hand in battleground South Carolina district
Republicans had high hopes that the party would be able to take back South Carolina’s first congressional district this election. They had a candidate with an impressive resume and solid financial support, a district that President Donald Trump won by 12 points and a first-term incumbent who had been elected by just 1.4 points.
But three weeks out from Election Day, Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC) appears to have secured a solid lead over Republican state Rep. Nancy Mace.
A new poll commissioned by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee found Cunningham leading Mace by 13 points, and race handicappers including the Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball have moved the race from “Tossup” to “Lean Democratic” in recent weeks.
Gibbs Knotts, a political science professor at the College of Charleston, credited Cunningham’s fundraising and “really effective commercials” for his success in widening the polling gap between himself and Mace.
“[He’s] somebody who’s really about not being super ideological,” Knotts told Jewish Insider. “That message has been able to get out, and he’s been able to tell that story a bit more.”
Cunningham’s advertising has emphasized bipartisanship, Knotts continued, and highlighted votes in which he has bucked the party line. Several of Cunningham’s ads point to the freshman legislator’s fight against a congressional pay raise proposed by Democratic leaders. “There’s nothing I won’t do in D.C. to put the Lowcountry first,” Cunningham says in one ad.
Cunningham even received praise from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) for his position on coronavirus-related unemployment benefits in a recent senatorial debate.
Nevertheless, Knotts cautioned that the DCCC-commissioned poll may somewhat overstate Cunningham’s lead. “It’s going to be close even with a strong candidate like Joe Cunningham,” he said. “I expect it to remain in the single digits.”
Mace’s campaign disputed the results of the DCCC’s poll.
“Right on cue, after blockbuster Q3 fundraising that breaks national records for amount raised over D incumbents, the DCCC comes out with a polling memo that defies science,” Mace campaign manager Mara Mellstrom told JI. “This race is a toss-up and all interested parties are acting accordingly… Believe your eyes — not a selectively leaked hack poll designed to scare money away at the close.”
Mace raised $2.3 million in the third quarter of 2020, while Cunningham raised $1.8 million. This gives Mace a cash on hand advantage going into the final month of the election — Mace has $1.7 million on hand compared to Cunningham’s $1.2 million, The State reported.
Knotts characterized Mace as having failed to “articulate her clear vision,” according to Knotts.
“She did not have a breakout moment in the debates,” Knotts said. “She had some bright spots… [but] I think Cunningham certainly held his own.”
Knotts also noted that Cunningham has solidified his support among college-educated suburbanites in the district, who are proving to be a key constituency for Democrats nationwide this cycle.
This support also “bodes well” for Democratic Senate candidate Jaime Harrison and Vice President Joe Biden in this year’s surprisingly competitive statewide races, Knotts said.
Harry Reid pulls no punches with his political predictions
Since he retired from the Senate four years ago, Harry Reid has watched with dismay as the chamber he inhabited for three decades has deteriorated into what he regards as a cauldron of incivility.
The 80-year-old Nevada-born Democrat, who ended his run in 2017 as his party’s leader in the Senate— and served for eight years, from 2007 to 2015, as Senate majority leader — blames the Republican Party.
“I don’t think it was bad when I left,” he told Jewish Insider in a recent phone interview from his home in Las Vegas, where he now lives with his wife, Landra Gould. “What has happened is Republican senators have been dismal failures, as far as I’m concerned, because they’re lap dogs for [President Donald] Trump.”
Still, Reid sees an upside to this dynamic as November 3 comes into view. “It’s going to be a change election,” he predicted, charging that the GOP has badly damaged its reputation in cozying up to the president, whose popularity has waned as he goes up against Democratic nominee Joe Biden. “I think Trump’s going to be beaten.”
The former senator, who has kept a close eye on the national political scene notwithstanding his absence from Washington, envisions a Democratic sweep in which the party maintains control of the House and picks up a majority in the Senate.
“You’re going to see many down-ballot races decided in favor of Democrats,” Reid said, “just because people don’t like Trump.”
He believes that Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) will fall in Colorado, as will Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) in North Carolina, Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) in Montana and Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) in Arizona. He is optimistic, too, that Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) will lose his seat in Georgia and that Dan Sullivan (R-AK) will be vanquished in Alaska.
As for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is currently engaged in a fight for his political life as Jaime Harrison, his Democratic challenger, outraises him at every turn?
“I hope he loses,” Reid said.
The outspoken Democrat and former amateur pugilist who is a member of the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame has never been one to pull his punches. “People always know where I stood,” Reid said, “and where I stand.”
And in conversation with JI, Reid was in a spirited mood, despite the occasional cough, as he discussed the upcoming election. In 2015, Reid suffered an exercise accident that left him blind in his right eye, followed three years later by a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
He says that he is now cancer-free, but according to a spokesperson, Reid is still undergoing chemotherapy treatment to keep the disease at bay. Nevertheless, he is staying busy. “I’m doing fine,” said Reid, who now co-chairs a public policy institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, with former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).
Reid’s partnership with Boehner underscores his conviction that Democrats should reach across the aisle, along with his faith in a “strong, two-party system.” To this day, he maintains ties with his former colleague, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), as well as the billionaire GOP donor Sheldon Adelson.
“I’ve known him so long, I knew him when he was a Democrat,” Reid said of Adelson, who is one of Trump’s most deep-pocketed backers. “I understand his politics have changed. I accept that. We have an agreement where he respects what I do, and I respect what he does. I don’t get involved in his politics, and I appreciate him staying out of mine. So I still keep in touch with him.”
But the senator is less forgiving of those who currently represent the GOP in D.C., even as some Republicans have sought to distance themselves from the president.
“Mitch McConnell’s had his arm wrapped around Trump pretty tightly for many years now,” Reid said of the Kentucky senator. The Senate majority leader recently said that he had not visited the White House since August 6 in an apparent effort to separate himself from the president’s haphazard approach to the coronavirus pandemic.
For Reid, such statements are insufficient. “We’re less than three weeks before the election,” he said of McConnell, “and he can’t unwrap his arm.”
Either way, Reid added his belief that the Republican Party could rebuild itself after the election, noting that such groups as the Lincoln Project — the political action committee made up of former Republican strategists who oppose the president — have given him hope for the future of the party post-Trump.
“Republicans are going to get rid of him,” he said, “and reestablish the brand.”
Reid believes his own party, on the other hand, is in good shape. Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has done a “remarkably good job,” and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will make a fine majority leader if the Democrats take control of the upper chamber, according to Reid.
“He’s done a wonderful job leading the Democrats since I left,” Reid said of his successor in the Senate. “I have nothing but good things to say about Chuck Schumer. He’s a unique individual. People don’t realize how smart he is. He got a perfect score on his SAT, perfect score on his LSAT exam. He’s extremely smart. He knows the Senate. I think he’ll do just fine.”
The senator said that he had no advice to impart to Schumer. “He doesn’t need my words of wisdom,” Reid said. “I taught him everything I know.”
As for Biden, Reid said that he will make a good president who may even be able to instill a sense of normalcy in the legislative branch. “That’s not going to happen overnight,” he said, while suggesting that Biden is a “peacemaker” who could help bring about a shared sense of cooperation between the two parties if he is elected. “I think that it could turn out to be like the old Senate.”
He declined to reveal his views on court packing as pundits and politicians alike have speculated whether a Biden administration would seek to expand the Supreme Court bench in response to the Republican effort to rush the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett before the November election.
“This is something that should not be done lightly,” he said. “I think it’s a terribly important decision to make. Certainly, everyone knows it can be done with a simple majority vote in the Senate and the House. But I think I think we should wait and see how the elections turn out.”
A staunch supporter of Israel, Reid is unworried by some progressive Democrats in Congress who have expressed views that are critical of the Jewish state. “That’s just a very small group,” he said. “That’s not the Democratic Party in any way.”
“Democrats have always stood up for Israel,” he added, “and they’ll continue to do so in the future.”
Reid, who is Mormon, said he had no special insight into the views of religious voters, remarking that he has always tried to separate his religious views from his political convictions. “I try not to wear religion on my sleeve,” he said.
He provided one insight, however, when asked about his views on the similarities and differences between Mormon and Jewish voters. “I think that there are more Democrats who are Jewish than Republicans,” he said, “and there are more Republicans who are Mormons than Democrats.”
Reid is concerned about the rise of antisemitism, citing recent incidents in which swastikas were painted on a stairwell at the University of Nevada, Reno.
“White supremacists have risen their ugly heads,” he said. “I think antisemitism is a real issue that we need to understand. It’s alive and well.”
Reid was instrumental in launching an effort that culminated in Trump’s recent executive order on antisemitism, which penalizes colleges and universities for ignoring antisemitic behavior.
Though Reid demurred when asked if he thought Biden would enforce the order, he said that the presidential nominee was in a good position to address antisemitism. “He’s well-equipped to understand and handle the antisemitism that has risen its ugly head,” Reid told JI.
Despite his antipathy toward the president, Reid did reserve one bit of praise for Trump, giving a nod to his role in brokering peace deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. “I think it’s one of the highlights of the Trump administration,” Reid said, characterizing the effort as “commendable.”
Not that he thinks such diplomacy has indemnified the president from what Reid regards as an otherwise abysmal run in public office — one he believes will soon come to an end.
“Instead of giving him a D-,” Reid said, “I guess we’ll give him a D+.”
JI’s guide to races to watch in the general election
With three weeks until the 2020 general election, the Jewish Insider elections team has created a short guide to the key Senate and House races to watch in the wildest election year of our time. Read through interviews, in-depth looks at races across the country and candidate questionnaires with answers to some of the questions that matter most to JI readers. Daily Kickoff updates on these races will continue over the next three weeks.
New York 22nd: Former Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY) held her seat for just one term before losing to Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) by less than 2 percentage points in 2018. A recent poll shows Brindisi in the lead in this year’s rematch.
New York 11th: Freshman Rep. Max Rose (D-NY) faces a tough reelection against New York Assembly Member Nicole Malliotakis in a Staten Island district Trump won by 10 points.
New York 2nd: Following the retirement of Rep. Peter King (R-NY), Democrat Jackie Gordon and Republican Andrew Garbarino are fighting to win the toss-up seat in this Long Island district.
New York 1st: Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), one of two Jewish Republicans in Congress, is facing a challenge from Democrat Nancy Goroff in this Long Island swing district that the GOP expects to hold on to in November.
California 50th: After losing to then-incumbent Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) in 2018, Ammar Campa-Najjar — who grew up in Gaza — is mounting a second bid for Congress in the district. Due to Hunter’s resignation and arrest, Campa-Najjar this time faces former Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who served in Congress in a neighboring district for nearly 20 years. An early September poll showed the two in a statistical tie.
California 53rd: San Diego City Council President Georgette Gómez has the backing of the pro-Israel community — as well as progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) — in her race against Qualcomm heiress and fellow Democrat Sara Jacobs. A late September poll found Jacobs with a solid lead, but nearly 40% of voters said they were still undecided.
Pennsylvania 7th: Freshman Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA) appears to have shot ahead of Republican challenger Lisa Scheller. A poll in late September found Wild more than 10 points ahead of Scheller, and the Cook Political Report recently moved the district from “Leans Democratic” to “Likely Democratic.”
Pennsylvania 10th: Freedom Caucus member Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) is fending off a challenge from Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, who appears to have the momentum in the final weeks of the race. Perry recently faced scrutiny from the Republican Jewish Coalition, which endorsed him, for being one of the few lawmakers to vote against a resolution condemning the QAnon conspiracy theory.
Georgia 7th: After losing by less than 500 votes in 2018, Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux is making another bid for this seat. The GOP is hoping that political newcomer Rich McCormick, a veteran and doctor, can keep the seat in Republican hands, despite a “Lean Democratic” rating from the Cook Political Report.
New Jersey 2nd:Recent polling shows Democrat Amy Kennedy leading Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ), a former Democrat who voted against impeachment, switched parties and pledged his “undying support” for the president in late 2019.
Virginia 2nd: In a rematch of the 2018 race, first-term Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) and former Rep. Scott Taylor (R-VA) are working to win over undecided voters. Their military-heavy district has increasingly tipped toward Democrats in recent years, but the race remains a tossup, according to the Cook Political Report.
Virginia 5th: Virginia’s 5th district was initially considered a relatively reliable Republican seat. But with religious conservative Bob Good’s primary win over incumbent Republican Denver Riggleman (R-VA), Democrat Cameron Webb is surging in a race the Cook Political Reportrecently rated as a tossup.
Indiana 5th: With early backing from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, State Rep. Christina Hale has maintained a lead in most polls over State Sen. Victoria Spartz, who self-funded her campaign to break through a crowded Republican primary field. Both candidates have heavily emphasized their bipartisan credentials.
Michigan 8th: Although first-term Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) is running in a Republican stronghold and has established a reputation as a Trump administration critic on national security issues, she is favored to win reelection. Slotkin and her allies have attacked opponent Paul Junge for advertisements they say are antisemitic.
Minnesota 7th: Former Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach has a solid shot at unseating Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), a rare Democrat in a conservative-leaning district. While Peterson has maintained a reputation as a centrist and is popular with the agriculture industry, Republicans believe Fischbach may give them a chance to flip this seat.
North Carolina 11th: Political newcomer Madison Cawthorn nabbed a surprise victory in the runoff to succeed former Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), who departed the seat for a job as the president’s chief of staff. The paraplegic 25-year-old’s campaign has been riddled with controversy, including social media posts about Adolf Hitler, and he’s found a formidable challenger in retired Air Force Colonel Moe Davis.
Nebraska 2nd: After narrowly losing to Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) in 2018, Kara Eastman is again neck-and-neck with the incumbent congressman in her second bid to unseat him. Bacon’s campaign has sought to paint the progressive Eastman as too far left for the district.
New Mexico 2nd: Despite struggling through a bruising Republican primary, State Rep. Yvette Herrell has managed to remain neck-and-neck with Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM) in this rematch of their 2018 faceoff. Torres Small defeated Herrell by less than 2 percentage points in 2018, and Herrell has continued to insist the election was stolen.
Texas 10th: After a narrow loss in 2018 to incumbent Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX) in the Austin-area district, attorney Mike Siegel is again challenging the longtime Republican congressman. An early September poll commissioned by Siegel’s campaign had McCaul with a two-point lead over Siegel.
Georgia special election: With no candidate close to 50% in the polls, the race to replace former Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), who retired in late 2019 amid health concerns, appears headed to a runoff. Republicans Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins are neck-and-neck in most recent surveys, although Loeffler seems to hold a slight edge. Meanwhile, Democrats worry that Matt Lieberman — son of former Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) — could serve as a spoiler and prevent Rev. Raphael Warnock, who is currently leading the Democratic pack, from making the runoff ballot.
Maine: Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) — one of the most moderate Republicans in Congress — is looking to save her seat in a tough matchup against speaker of the Maine House of Representatives Sara Gideon. With both candidates statistically tied in recent polls, the race will come down to the wire in a seat considered vital to Democrats’ chances of retaking the Senate.
Colorado: Former Gov. John Hickenlooper appears poised to unseat Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) as their state turns increasingly blue. Gardner’s campaign seems to have been hampered by Trump’s unpopular reputation within the state.
South Carolina: Sen. Lindsey Graham is scrambling to hold onto his Senate seat amid a fierce challenge from Jaime Harrison, who has shattered fundraising records and pulled even in recent polls. As the campaign approaches its finish line, Graham also finds himself chairing Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings, reneging on a promise he made in 2016 not to support a confirmation in an election year.
Kansas: Although some Democrats had written off the Kansas Senate race as a lost cause after Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS) defeated controversial immigration hardliner Kris Kobach, state Sen. Barbara Bollier has delivered a strong campaign, with recent polls indicating that the race will come down to the wire.
Michigan: Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) is locked in a tight race with veteran and businessman John James. James lost a 2018 challenge to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), but has risen in the polls against Peters in the final weeks of the campaign. A poll released Monday found Peters and James virtually tied.
Alaska: The Senate race in Alaska is tightening, with Al Gross — a Democratic-backed independent — closing the gap with incumbent Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK). Both parties are pouring money into the state, in a race that has turned out to be unexpectedly competitive.
Can Dan Sullivan hang on in the tightening Alaska Senate race?
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) spent a good portion of the five-week August Senate recess driving through Alaska and meeting with voters in an effort to boost his profile ahead of his November reelection battle. “I’ve been getting out with my wife,” he said in an interview with Jewish Insider as he drove north from Anchorage to the Matanuska-Susitna Valley on a recent September afternoon.
“We’ve covered well over 1,000 miles in my truck,” added Sullivan, estimating that he had interacted with approximately 2,000 voters at outdoor campaign events and rallies during his peregrinations through Alaska. “We were all over the state.”
The Republican senator is well aware that he needs to work hard to defend his seat this cycle. In 2014, the first-time candidate narrowly defeated the incumbent Democrat, Sen. Mark Begich, by just three points.
Now, the roles have been reversed as Sullivan prepares to go up against a formidable challenger, Al Gross, an independent allied with Democratic Party leaders who has picked up traction in the state.
Though polls from June and July suggested that Sullivan, 55, was comfortably ahead of Gross, recent numbers have indicated that the race may be tightening. A Public Policy Polling survey, conducted in late August, found that Sullivan and Gross — both of whom have raked in millions of dollars in campaign donations — were tied with 43% of the vote.
The race has become increasingly acrimonious in recent weeks as the two candidates have traded barbs in an ongoing series of attack ads. A possible Supreme Court nomination and an in-state mining scandal have added to the high stakes in a contest that is drawing national media attention as well as significant outside spending.
Gross has run a strong campaign, experts say, casting himself as a political outsider in a state that favors them. The 57-year-old Jewish doctor has sought to play up his background as a commercial fisherman and gold prospector. Gross, who was born and raised in Alaska, is also an outsider of another sort: He was the first to have a bar mitzvah in the state’s southeastern portion. (His parents flew in a rabbi for the ceremony.)
But despite his status as an independent, the playing field is still unfavorable to Gross in historically red Alaska, whose top elected officials are currently all Republicans.
Gross’s odds further decreased last week when the Alaska Supreme Court rejected an appeal to reprint ballots to include candidates’ party affiliations and not only list how they got elected — meaning Gross, who ran in the Democratic primary, will likely be identified as a Democratic nominee rather than as an independent, which could diminish his prospects at the polls.
“Gross is fighting well and will likely capture a portion of the vote, but I have yet to see a key indicator that he is likely to win,” Amy Lauren Lovecraft, a professor of political science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, told JI. “Sullivan just hasn’t had any large missteps that would turn his base against him or cause new folks to vote for him rather than his competition.”
Sullivan remains confident that he can win over voters, accusing his opponent of hoodwinking Alaskans by not adhering to any party affiliation as he campaigns for office.
“He’s telling people he’s an independent, but then he’s caught on a national fundraiser telling people that he’s going to caucus with the Democrats,” Sullivan scoffed, implying that Gross was only running as an independent because it was politically expedient. “His values are to the left.”
In the interview with JI, Sullivan took aim at his opponent’s healthcare proposals — Gross supports a public option for Medicare — but reserved his harshest criticism for Gross’s foreign policy views, particularly on Iran.
Gross opposed President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement and believes the United States should be brought back into compliance with the deal.
“I saw my opponent said he thought it was bad that we pulled out,” Sullivan said, alluding to a June interview with JI in which Gross expressed his disapproval of Trump’s abandonment of the deal. “I couldn’t disagree more.”
Sullivan declared that one of the primary reasons he decided to run for Senate in 2014 was because he so strongly disapproved of former President Barack Obama’s approach to Iran.
“The appeasement that was going on with regard to Iran was shocking, it was dangerous, and it was something that I thought was not only bad for America but very bad for our most important ally in the Middle East — and that’s Israel,” Sullivan told JI.
Sullivan, who has not travelled to Israel during his time as a senator, touts his record when it comes to the Jewish state. He is, along with the majority of Senate members, a co-sponsor of a proposed bill, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which would give states permission to require that companies pledge not to boycott Israel. Sullivan said he signed on to the bill because he regards the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement as part of a rising tide of antisemitism in the U.S.
“Part of the reason I was one of the original cosponsors of that was to show that, at least from the Congress’s perspective, we don’t find that acceptable,” he said, adding his disagreement that the act would infringe on free-speech rights. “I think it’s important to send a signal from the Congress of the United States that those movements on boycotting Israel are completely unacceptable.”
The first-term senator previously worked as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and as Alaska’s attorney general. Before that, the Ohio-born Republican served as an assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs in the George W. Bush administration. Sullivan, who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2013, is now a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve.
“When I got to the Senate, I didn’t need to be educated on the importance of the U.S.-Israeli relationship,” Sullivan said. “I also certainly didn’t need to be educated on the threat that the terrorist regime in Tehran posed to Israel and posed to the United States.”
His experience in the State Department, where he worked from 2006 to 2009, molded his view of international relations and diplomacy.
During that time, he told JI, he helped push for Israel’s inclusion in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and traveled the globe as part of an effort to convince America’s allies, including France, Germany, Norway and Japan, to divest from the Iranian oil and gas sector.
Sullivan commended Trump’s actions with regard to Iran, singling out his decision to assassinate Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, whom the senator regarded as a grave threat to the security of American troops in the Middle East.
“As soon as I got to the Senate, I started giving speeches about this guy Soleimani,” Sullivan said. “I’ve talked to the president numerous times about him. I’ve talked to the senior military. What the United States did with regard to the strike against Soleimani is that we reestablished deterrence,” Sullivan added. “This is really hard.”
Sullivan believes Trump’s tough posture toward Iran has helped the United States in brokering recent agreements between Israel and Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
“Most of this, of course, is driven by the recognition that the biggest threat in the region, whether it’s to Israel, or to Saudi Arabia, or to the UAE, is Iran,” Sullivan said. “The Trump administration has been very steady and focused on this in a way that has dramatically shifted the narrative,” he told JI, “in a way that, I think, takes advantage of the changing circumstances on the ground in a really important way.”
Sullivan added his concern that Trump’s diplomatic achievements would be in jeopardy if Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden — who has said he will reenter the Iran nuclear deal — is elected in November. “He would be undermining this progress,” Sullivan said.
“This is what is at stake with regard to this election,” the senator concluded.
Sullivan can at least remain hopeful that he will hold onto his seat even if Trump isn’t reelected, though he told JI that he is operating on the assumption that he needs to run an aggressive campaign nonetheless.
“Alaska, from my perspective, is a lot more purple than red,” Sullivan said.
Ivan Moore, a veteran pollster who runs Alaska Survey Research in Anchorage, agreed with Sullivan’s appraisal of the state’s political makeup.
“I think he’s still the favorite, but there is the potential for an upset,” said Moore, adding that the state has been trending purple in recent years as young transplants who aren’t interested in working in the energy sector move to the state.
While Sullivan appears somewhat vulnerable this cycle, Moore predicted that he would hold onto his seat. But whether that will be the case six years from now remains to be seen.
“The days when a Republican could run a weak campaign, not really pay much attention to it and still win by 10 or 15 points,” Moore told JI, “are kind of a thing of the past.”
On Rosh Hashanah call, Trump urges support for his reelection
President Donald Trump implored American Jewish leaders to back his administration’s efforts to bring peace in the Middle East and support his reelection bid during an annual High Holidays conference call with rabbis and Jewish community leaders on Wednesday afternoon.
“Whatever you can do in terms of November 3rd, it’s going to be very important because if we don’t win, Israel is in big trouble,” Trump told participants on the call, adding that if he loses reelection and Republicans lose control of the Senate, “you are going to lose control of Israel. Israel will never be the same. I don’t know if it can recover from that.”
Trump noted the previous lack of widespread support among Jewish voters for his campaign, saying he was surprised to have only received 25% of the Jewish vote in 2016. “Here I have a son-in-law and a daughter who are Jewish, I have beautiful grandchildren that are Jewish, I have all of these incredible achievements,”” he said. “I’m amazed that it seems to be almost automatically a Democrat vote. President Obama is the worst president, I would say by far, that Israel has ever had in the United States… And yet the Democrats get 75%.”
“I hope you can do better with that,” Trump continued. “I hope you could explain to people what’s going on. We have to get more support from the Jewish people — for Israel… We have to be able, to hopefully, do well on November 3, and I hope you can get everybody out there. Otherwise, everything that we’ve done, I think, could come undone and we wouldn’t like that.”
On the call, White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner touted the administration’s record. “I can honestly say that there’s been no greater president for the Jewish people in history than Donald Trump,” Kushner said.
Trump ended the call by saying, “We really appreciate you. We love your country also.”