Opponents’ claims that two Democratic incumbents are “anti-Israel” will have little impact on the election results, according to two prominent political observers.
In the race for two NJ congressional seats, opponents of Reps. Rush Holt (D-Dist. 12) and Bill Pascrell (D-Dist. 8) have charged that their voting records suggest they are unfriendly to the Jewish state. Holt and Pascrell have denied the accusations, pointing to their records and supporters in the pro-Israel community.
“I doubt it will hurt either candidate, based on their districts and who lives there,” said Ben Dworkin, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. “The people who accept these charges as presented weren’t going to vote for either Pascrell or Holt anyway.”
Dworkin spoke to NJ Jewish News in a Sept. 29 telephone interview. “They have already made up their minds, and I do not know whether the charges are going to convince anybody new,” he said. “In fact, what these kinds of independent expenditure challenges do in the case of Pascrell, and certainly Holt, is they mobilize Jewish supporters of the candidates to argue against it and say ‘Rush Holt has got a great record on Israel.’ Same thing with Pascrell.”
Pascrell’s Republican challenger, Roland Straten of Montclair, has called the seven-term Democrat “pro-Arab,” and said Pascrell “takes the Jewish vote pretty much for granted.”
The conservative Emergency Committee for Israel has taken out a series of ads attacking Holt, who is facing a challenge from Republican Scott Sipprelle. Sipprelle earned backing from the Englewood-based pro-Israel political action committee NORPAC.
One key charge against both Democrats is their signing of the so-called “Gaza 54 letter” to President Barack Obama last January. While expressing sympathy with Israelis facing rocket and mortar attacks, it also urged Israel to ease its blockade of Gaza in order to allow in more humanitarian aid.
The Republican Jewish Coalition charged that the signers were opposed to “measures imposed to fight against terrorism.”
Both Holt and Pascrell have argued that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed he agreed with their viewpoint by lifting the embargo against humanitarian goods allowed into Gaza.
David Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University, said the anti-Israel attacks are not substantially damaging to either man.
“When you are playing to the issue of whether anybody is anti-Israel, the challengers are not really playing to the Jewish community,” he told NJJN by telephone from his office on the New Brunswick campus. “They are playing more broadly. There are evangelical Christians who are huge supporters of Israel, and what you are seeing is a play to more than just the Jewish vote.”
“Unfortunately, it is hard to get a statistical handle” on whether those charges are resonating among Jewish voters, Redlawsk conceded. “The community is relatively small and hard to sample, and secondly, I don’t know of anyone doing public polling in those specific races.”
With one exception, the two political observers expect that all of New Jersey’s incumbent members of Congress will be reelected.
The sole race in question is in New Jersey’s Third Congressional District, where incumbent first-term Democrat John Adler, a convert to Judaism, is being challenged by Republican Jon Runyan, a former pro football player. The contested district encompasses Ocean County and parts of Burlington and Camden counties.
“We expect that to be a really tight race,” said Redlawsk. As of Sept. 29, “Adler is up nine points, and he was up six points when we polled in early August among registered voters. But when we look at likely voters, he is up two points, and that is within the margin of error.”
Nationally, Dworkin sees more of a threat to the Democrats’ congressional majority.
“Democrats are being seriously threatened and may well lose control of the House,” he said. “They will most certainly lose seats in the Senate, but I am not certain they will lose control. A lot will depend on turnout, and the Republicans seem to be more enthusiastic than the Democrats.
“It’s a possibility, sure, that Democrats can keep control of the House,” he conceded, “but it doesn’t look that way right now.”