Lee Zeldin becomes Congress’ sole Jewish Republican as GOP retakes Senate

Ron Kampeas

Lee Zeldin defeated Democrat Tim Bishop in New York's 3rd district to become the sole Jewish Republican in Congress.

Lee Zeldin defeated Democrat Tim Bishop in New York’s 3rd district to become the sole Jewish Republican in Congress.

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Results late Tuesday showed Democrats teetering close to losing the Senate as well as wins for fresh faces with close Jewish and pro-Israel ties.

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In Long Island, Lee Zeldin, a state senator, was set to become the sole Jewish Republican in Congress, ending a short drought that commenced with the defeat of Rep. Eric Cantor in the Republican primary in June.

As of 10:00 pm eastern time Tuesday, Republicans were projected to pick up five of the six Senate seats they need to win control of the upper chamber. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate minority leader who handily beat back a challenge from Alison Lundergan Grimes, spoke in his victory speech as if he was ready to lead the Senate.

“Friends, this experiment in big government has lasted long enough,” he said, alluding to Republican claims that President Obama overreached with his signature health care reform. “It is time to go in a new direction. It is time to turn this country around.”

As of late Tuesday, two other Jewish candidates had come up short. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) lost Robert Dold in Illinois’ 10th after serving just one term in Congress. And in Colorado, Democratic challenger Andrew Romanoff failed in his bid to unseat incumbent Republican Mike Coffman

In New York’s 3rd district, Zeldin defeated Democratic state senator Tim Bishop. Zeldin had campaigned in part by saying he would revive the Jewish GOP presence in Congress after Cantor’s defeat. Dave Brat, the Tea Party candidate who defeated Cantor, also won the general election Tuesday.

Jack Moline, who directs the National Jewish Democratic Council, said the Democratic defeats in the sixth year of Barack Obama’s presidency demonstrated a frustration with gridlock.

“Results produce results,” Moline told JTA. “For whatever reason, and I would attribute it to the obstinacy of Republicans in Congress, the president hasn’t been able to accomplish what he wants to accomplish.”

Matthew Brooks, the director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, agreed that the election was a referendum on Obama’s inability to get results.

“The Republicans have made significant gains and the American people have clearly spoken and clearly want a different direction for the country.” he said.

Brooks predicted early action on Iran in the next congressional session. The current majority leader, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), has been able to head off GOP bids to intensify sanctions against the Islamic Republic, which the Obama administration opposes while negotiations are underway to reach a long-term deal over the country’s nuclear program.

“Obama is going to have real tsuris because he won’t have Harry Reid to block and tackle for him,” Brooks said, using the Yiddish word for “troubles.”

The two Jewish senators up for reelection Tuesday both kept their seats: Democrats Al Franken in Minnesota and Brian Schatz in Hawaii.

Moline also faulted Democrats and his own organization for ignoring Jewish voters in key states, including Georgia and Virginia. In Virginia, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) faced an unexpectedly strong challenge from Ed Gillespie. In Georgia, Michelle Nunn, the daughter of the long-serving Democratic senator Sam Nunn, was defeated by Republican David Perdue.

“There are more Jewish voters in Georgia than in Michigan,” Moline said. “There was a tremendous effort to turn out Latinos and African Americans, but very little effort for Jewish voters.”

There were some wins for candidates with unusual Jewish community ties. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), named by the state’s governor to the seat in 2013 after Jim DeMint retired, was elected outright, remaining the only African American Republican in Congress. He is close to Nick Muzin, an Orthodox Jew who formerly served as his chief of staff and who now advises Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) a likely candidate for the GOP presidential nod in 2016.

In New Jersey, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), elected in a special election last year after Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) died, won his first six-year term outright. Booker, an African American who headed a Jewish studies group when he studied at Oxford University, remains close to the New Jersey Jewish community.

In Pennsylvania, Democrats scored a rare win, picking up the governor’s mansion. Tom Wolf, the victor, is close to the small Jewish community in his native York, Pa. and is a major contributor to the local Jewish community center.