Washington — As establishment Jewish conservatives sat in stunned silence recently, sitting shiva over the defeat of Republican congressional leader Eric Cantor, a younger cohort of Republican Jews were jockeying vigorously to fill the vacuum he left as Congress’s only Jewish Republican.
With months to go until the 2014 congressional elections, it is not clear whether any of them will make it to Congress. Just as pointedly, it is unclear what brand of politics any putative successor to Cantor might bring.
But if the candidate who is considered the Jewish Republican with the best shot to win has his way, don’t look for a simple restoration of Cantor’s tight relationship with Wall Street and big tent approach to working with both establishment Republicans and hard-right tea party activists.
“We need to have some kosher tea in the United States,” declared Adam Kwasman, who is running for Congress in Arizona. “With Eric Cantor’s loss, a new generation of new Jewish Republicans are ready to take the mantle.” Not all Jewish Republican candidates campaigning now align themselves with the GOP’s Tea Party wing. But all take great pains to make clear that they are sympathetic to right-wing elements within their party that have become a deciding force in many races.
In an interview with the Forward, Lee Zeldin, a candidate for Congress in New York’s 1rst congressional district, called tea party activists in his district “great Americans” who wish to promote transparency and accountability. The tea party activists “are not what the Democrats are trying to paint,” argued Zeldin, a Republican state senator who is running for a district that includes most of Long Island.
Zeldin’s campaign got some unexpected national media attention recently when a fundraising event starring Cantor that had been planned weeks earlier became the venue for the former Republican Majority Leader’s first public appearance following his defeat.
“As Jews we have studied the Torah,” Cantor told participants at the June 14 Southampton event. “We read every week in some way, shape or form, and are reminded about personal setbacks. But we are also reminded about optimism of the future, about that bigger goal, that bigger vision that we as Jews are about.”
Proving he was still a donor magnet, Cantor raked in more than $100,000 for Zeldin’s campaign chest.
“Eric guaranteed there is a place at the table for people of our faith,” Zeldin told the Forward before the event. “There is definitely a vacuum left.”