Jews in Trouble on Capitol Hill

In the Jewish-legislators-in-trouble department, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis) could face his stiffest challenge yet, if current polls are accurate.

According to a survey conducted for Wisconsin Public Radio, Feingold, who is in his third term, trails former Gov. Tommy Thompson, a Republican who hasn’t even announced his candidacy yet, by 12 points.

Here’s a link to the survey.

Feingold came to the Senate in 1993 after beating incumbent Sen. Bob Kasten – a Republican and a favorite of pro-Israel campaign givers – but he has generally avoided conflict with groups like AIPAC, and his positions are generally in synch with Jewish groups that focus on domestic issues.

Thompson served four terms as Wisconsin’s governor and a stint as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services in the George W. Bush administration. He was also an unsuccessful early contender for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination.

In 2007 Thompson experienced an episode of foot-in-mouth trouble when, speaking before a Reform Jewish group, he seemed to echo stereotypes about Jewish tradition and money.

But let’s face it, the Jewish vote doesn’t count for much in Wisconsin. Thompson remains a popular figure in the state, anti-incumbent sentiment is running at flood tide, and Feingold forces are worried.

A recent Washington Post blog notes that despite his image as a diehard liberal, Feingold’s voting record puts him squarely in the political center.

Faring a little better is the man who used to be described as the “only Jewish Republican in the Senate,” but now just another face among the crowd of Democratic senators who happen to be Jewish: Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.)

A recent poll shows Specter running a bit behind former Rep. Pat Toomey, who unsuccessfully challenged Specter for the 2004 GOP Senate nomination. And Specter faces a strong challenge in the Democratic primary from U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, who isn’t going to let Democrats forget that Specter spent most of his Senate career as a Republican.

But “Specter in trouble” stories have been a regular feature of Pennsylvania politics for decades. It could be a horse race, but at this stage I wouldn’t bet the rent money against Specter, who’s been surviving tough Senate elections since 1980.


About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.