Primary roundup: Sen. Arlen Specter loses; will Rand Paul’s civil rights stance turn off Jewish voters?

It’s going to be real interesting to see how conservative Jewish voters react to the remarkable ascendance of Rand Paul, who won the Kentucky senatorial primary last week.

Unlike his father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), Rand is a supporter of Israel and sometimes sounds like he’s reading from AIPAC talking points.

But he shares the libertarian hostility to most government programs and the Federal Reserve system, and he managed to stir up huge controversy this week with this comments about civil rights. While he says he doesn’t favor repeal of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act, he doesn’t support federal civil rights legislation, and he doesn’t support laws that ban discrimination by private businesses, such as restaurants.

So, apparently, no government should tell restaurants they can’t put a “white only” sign on the door.

Question for Rand: does that also apply to a no-Jews policy, as well?

I traveled in the South in the early 1960s, and vividly remember signs reading “No blacks or Jews.” Given Paul’s stance that businesses have an absolute right to do what they want, would that be OK, too?

Okay, there aren’t a lot of Jews in Kentucky, so in November it won’t matter very much what they think. But what about pro-Israel campaign givers? Will Paul prove attractive because he is a Tea Partier who is down-the-line pro-Israel? Or will his views on civil rights make him treif to even single-issue pro-Israel givers?

Up in Pennsylvania, pundits are having a fine old time arguing that Sen. Arlen Specter’s loss in Tuesdays’ Democratic primary proves that President Obama and his Democratic colleagues in Congress are in real trouble.

I don’t doubt the claim this is going to be a tough election year for the Ds, but I don’t think the Specter contest tells us much about anything – except Specter.

As a Republican, the “moderate” Specter became ever more vulnerable to challenges from the right – which is why he changed parties last year. He actually said that was the reason – so he could get reelected – and in doing so gave his Democratic opponent, Rep. Rep. Joe Sestak, just about the finest gift a politician could give.

Sestak, no dummy, ran with it, arguing that Specter was a political opportunist whose only interested was holding on to his seat. That’s a message that is resonating with voters this year, and Specter’s foot-in-mouth problem made it especially effective for Sestak.

And let’s face it : Specter is one of the oldest members of the Senate, he’s been on the job for 30 years and he’s cranky – in other words, not a particularly attractive presence on the campaign trail.

I like the assessment of Janet Hook and Seema Mehta, two Chicago Tribune bloggers:

“In a year where the entire political establishment is being challenged by rank-and-file activists, Sen. Arlen Specter is a standout. He managed to run afoul of both parties in one election cycle.”

Well put.


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.