Number of Jews in Congress could set record after 2008 elections

Fascinating analysis by Shmuel Rosner in Ha’aretz, “Will next U.S. Congress top current record number of Jewish lawmakers?”

What we’ve got now:

The class of 2006 gave us a record number of Jewish legislators on Capitol Hill. The numbers: 30 Jewish members of the House (29 Democrats), 13 Jewish senators (9 Democrats, 2 independents who caucus with the Democrats and 2 Republicans). This is the highest number ever.


Rosner reviews the Cook Political Report and here are the places where he sees possible gains for the U.S House:

5. The Republican Toss Up column has no Jewish members of the House, but again, we also checked the list of challengers. Here is the outcome:

A. Alaska-AL: a leading Democratic contender, Ethan Berkowitz, is Jewish. He is leading among Democrats and lugging not far behind the main Republican challenger. Imagine: a Jewish legislator from Alaska! (Apparently, not the first one).

B. AZ-01: Howard Shanker is a Jewish attorney and is trying to become the Democratic nominee. One should note, though, that the list of prospective nominees is long and that the district is conservative. Shanker seems like a long shot.

C. NJ-03: In this open seat, Democratic nominee, John Adler is Jewish. It was a Republican district in 2006, but now it seems as if Adler has an edge.

Bottom line: Up to three new Jewish members (but if all of them win this will be a surprise, some of them have to overcome a primary battle first).

And then:

7. There are also a couple of long shots I’ve decided to include in this roundup. These are races that are not counted by anyone as Toss Ups, but if this year becomes a Democratic tsunami (as more and more people believe it might be), maybe some of them will change hands anyway. This, of course, will make this year much more likely to be a record year (more Jewish legislators and contenders are Democrats – oh, and voters too).

[The races are in NJ-05, WY-AL and VA-10.]

Turning to the U.S. Senate (here is the Cook Political Report info), of note:

2. The fierce battle for Minnesota is the one Toss Up, but it will not affect the number of Jewish legislators as both Senator Coleman and his challenger, comedian Al Franken, are Jewish. It might affect, though, the composition of the Jewish caucus, by possibly taking away yet another Jewish Republican seat.

5. And here is a nugget I can add thanks to a reader in NM: Congressman Tom Udall of New Mexico, son of Former Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall and a nephew of former Congressman Mo Udall from Arizona, is not Jewish, but is a long time member of Temple Beth Shalom in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is married to Jill Cooper, a Jewish woman. And he is running now for the open Senate Seat in New Mexico. We didn’t count him as a member of the Jewish group in 2006, so we will not count him as one if he becomes a Senator. But maybe an honorary membership is due.

Rosner’s conclusion isn’t quite as strong as his lede implies, IMO:

In the House, no gains or losses are expected when discussing Democratic seats, other than the one of Lantos earlier in the year – but if some of the races get tighter we might see a couple of loses (up to four). A couple of gains are possible when we check the Republican seats – but for this to happen the Jewish contenders need to win the primary battles, and the elections. Since there’s no reason to believe that the number of Jewish Senators will change, this is really a close call: The 2008 Congress can repeat the record number of Jewish legislators; it can lose one or two Jewish seats; but a new record is also possible.

We’ll just have to wait for November 5 to know for sure, but more immediately, why should anyone care about this possibility? What does it actually mean – does it say more about who is running or who is voting?

What I’d prefer to read from Rosner is what impact if any he thinks the increasing numbers have made, on anything – not only the issues we’d most likely suggest might be influenced by a larger number of legislators who are Jewish.

Hattip Holly in Cincinnati.

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