A few weeks after former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle entered the Senate race, she flew to New York City for a fundraiser at a kosher steakhouse, Le Marais, geared toward her fellow Jewish Republicans.
“I’ve been to events that have already raised in excess of six figures for her,” Republican Jewish Coalition President Matt Brooks said. “This is going to be a real priority race for the organization.”
Just last week, as almost every GOP White House hopeful paraded through the RJC’s presidential forum, Florida Senate candidate Adam Hasner worked the confab, too. Lingle and Hasner aren’t strangers to the Jewish Republican community, and neither is Josh Mandel, a Republican running for Senate in Ohio and one of the most successful fundraisers this cycle.
There’s a small tribe of Jewish Republicans in Congress, with a current membership of just one: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.). But that could change this cycle, especially in the Senate where three Jewish Republicans are running in competitive 2012 races.
“We are blessed with many. The harvest is bountiful,” said former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who is Jewish. “There’s a real possibility of doubling or tripling the number of Republican Jews in the Senate. It’s been a pretty exclusive club.”
Coleman, who lost a lengthy 2008 recount battle in mid-2009, was one of the last Jewish Republicans to serve in the Senate. Around the same time, the Senate’s remaining Jewish Republican, then-Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), left the GOP to become a Democrat. Specter then lost re-election in 2010.
Their departure broke a 50-year tradition of at least one Jewish Republican in the Senate that started in 1957, when former Sen. Jacob Javits (N.Y.) joined the chamber.
Democrats have dominated the ranks of Jewish Members on Capitol Hill for decades. Twenty-four Jewish Democrats currently serve in the House, and 12 Jewish Democrats serve in the Senate.
But since spring of 2009, there’s been a drought on the campaign trail, too. Not a single Jewish Republican has headlined a major Senate race since Coleman’s loss.
What makes this cycle different from all other cycles?
Republicans such as Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said it’s been an evolution over many years. As one of Israel’s most outspoken GOP supporters on Capitol Hill, Kirk represented — and raised prolific money from — a large Jewish population in his former House district on Chicago’s North Shore for 10 years.