Pa. race called for Toomey and what that says about J Street

As the Political Insider puts a wrap on what has been a long day, several news organizations are now projecting Republican Pat Toomey the winner in the super-hot Pennsylvania senate race.

If those projections hold he will beat Rep. Joe Sestak, the man who ousted Sen. Arlen Specter in this year’s Democratic primary, by a narrow margin.

The results will ignite a firestorm of spin about J Street, the controversial pro-peace process, pro-Israel group that supported Sestak in a big way.

That support became the linchpin of a fierce anti-Sestak campaign by Jewish Republicans and the Emergency Committee for Israel, a new group created by some leading conservatives, which can be expected to  portray the vote as a huge loss for J Street.

They may be right – but a lot depends entirely on exit poll numbers we don’t yet have. As of 12:35 AM, the only exit poll data from the Pennsylvania race showed the Jewish vote as too small to measure.  If the past is any guide, we may have more information sometime in the next few days.

The problem is, assessing J Street’s impact on the vote depends on how the Jews voted in a race that, for most voters in the state, was all about the bad economy and dislike of the Washington establishment.

If they voted significantly more Republican than usual, and significantly more Republican than Jewish voters in comparable states, a case can be made that the J Street factor and the attack ads aimed at Jewish audiences played a role in the outcome.

But if they voted pretty much like other Jewish voters and like they’ve voted in the past, with an added GOP take because the Republicans are doing better with most voter groups this year, it will be hard to accurately claim that J Street or Sestak’s positions on Israel were decisive factors.

Other than the Sestak race, it’s looking like an okay night for J Street, with most of the recipients of its endorsements and money winning, including Rep. Keith Ellison, Rep. Lois Capps, Rep. Gary Ackerman, Rep. Barney Frank and Rep. Jan Schakowsky.

But in fact, most of them were not in close races and the Israel issue was an issue in only a few, so it’s hard to use them to gauge J Street’s performance.

One significant loss for the group: Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) was beaten by political newcomer Ron Johnson, a Republican.

But the Israel issue did not play out in any significant way in Wisconsin, where the overwhelming focus was on the state’s sour economy, big job losses and weariness with the liberal Feingold, who’s been in the Senate since 1993.

My preliminary assessment: it’s going to be hard for J Street to prove it had much of a positive impact for the candidates it supported – but possibly even harder for critics to show that J Street endorsements were this year’s political kiss of death for candidates.

But the Pennsylvania exit polls aren’t in yet, and it will be interesting to see if they provide a fuller picture of the impact of the J Street controversy in the Sestak-Toomey race.

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.