Former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle is one of a few Jewish Republican candidates running in competitive Senate races for 2012.
“It was quite small initially. The number of Jewish Republicans who would gather in Illinois could fit in a small diner, and that’s it,” said Kirk, who is not Jewish. “But it has changed pretty profoundly so that now the Republican Jewish Coalition meetings in Illinois will have anywhere between 500 and 2,000 people at the events.”
Kirk said he’s also seen a candidate sea change in his former district, where the entire slate of GOP state legislative candidates this cycle are Jewish. While Jewish voters still tend to be Democrats, Kirk said, Republicans have made inroads with a pro-Israel agenda.
Jewish Republican donors rose to prominence and power over the past decade, working to build a national network of financial support for candidates. They point to well-known GOP fundraisers, such as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson in Las Vegas, hedge fund manager Paul Singer in New York and former Ambassadors Mel Sembler and Sam Fox of Florida and Missouri, respectively.
But only recently has the bench of Jewish Republican candidates caught up with donors’ wallets — and the money shows.
Most notably, Mandel raised more than his opponent, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D), for the last two quarters in the competitive Ohio Senate race. Part of Mandel’s funds include a fundraiser in St. Louis hosted by Fox, who helped him raise six figures at an event with RJC members.
Lingle hasn’t had to file her fundraising totals yet for her first quarter in the race, but news outlets reported she brought in $400,000 in the first week of her candidacy. That’s more than either of her Democratic opponents, former Rep. Ed Case or Rep. Mazie Hirono, brought in during the third quarter.
Hasner outpaced his GOP opponents last quarter by raising $535,000 for his challenge to Sen. Bill Nelson (D). However, the dynamic of the primary changed completely when Rep. Connie Mack IV (R) entered the Florida Senate race this month.
Hasner served as Florida’s Jewish outreach chairman for President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign and held a similar role for the national GOP ticket in 2008. It was on that campaign, Hasner said, that he got to know Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who backed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
“I haven’t come across a disadvantage yet” as a candidate, Hasner said. “When you’re a Jewish Republican, when you’re a minority of a minority, you have to be even more principled and even more resolved and committed to what you believe in.”
There is one other high-profile Republican Senate candidate with Jewish roots this cycle — although his heritage only came to light six years ago in the midst of another hard-fought Senate race.
Former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) was caught off guard in his failed 2006 re-election race when he, a practicing Methodist, discovered his mother was raised Jewish. The revelation came in the wake of the now-infamous “macaca” moment that ultimately sank his campaign.
Jewish Republicans said he’s always forged ties with their community, but he’s embraced the community in a whole new manner since that revelation.