Posted on March 23, 1992 in Washington Watch

Not only are the parties choosing their Presidential candidates this election year, but all 435 members of Congress and 35 Senate seats are up for reelection as well.

In fact, the biggest news to come out of the Illinois primary elections this past week was not was not the victories of Bush or Clinton, but the defeats of incumbent Senator Alan Dixon and four Democratic Congressmen. While there were different issues in each of these races, of course, three of them bring into sharp focus the vulnerability of incumbents in this unusual election year, where voters are increasingly anti-Washington and want change.

By contrast, in the 1990 elections’ 34 Senate races, only one incumbent Senator failed to win reelection, and 406 (out of 435) Congressmen won reelection in 1990. In all these Congressional races 79 ran unopposed and 158 had only token opposition. The figures were similar in 1988.

But this year all bets are off. Experts feel that at least 100 Congressional seats will change, making this one of the biggest years of change in recent history.

This week we will look at some of the Senate races.


Some of Israel’s strongest supporters in the Senate are running for reelection this year. Among them are Senator Dan Inouye of Hawaii and Senator Robert Kasten of Wisconsin who led the fight for the Israeli loan guarantees last fall, and Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Senator Robert Packwood of Oregon.

Also running for Senate seats open due to retirement are two of Israel’s strongest supporters in the Congress, Democratic Foreign Affairs committee members Mel Levine of California and Wayne Owens of Utah who sponsored the $10 billion loan guarantee bill in the House.

While many of these and other Senate races will be examined in this series as the year continues, this week we’ll survey the reelection campaigns of the three of the most stridently pro-Israel Senators. These races are particularly interesting because of the fact that these stridently pro-Israel Senators are Republicans running, in effect, against the President’s Middle East peace program.

Robert Packwood, Republican Senator from Oregon
Few Senators have pandered for pro-Israel money like Bob Packwood. Never a major recipient of pro-Israel PAC money ($39,000 in his 1986 race), Packwood has turned up the heat this year because he faces an exceptionally strong challenge from the Democrats this fall. Depending on the outcome of Oregon’s Democratic primary, Packwood will face either Les AuCoin, a strongly pro-Israel Congressman who has been caught in the check-bouncing scandal, or from Harry Lonsdale, a wealthy businessman who almost defeated Oregon’s other Senator (Mark Hatfield) in 1990.

After taking heavy criticism for receiving large amounts of PAC money in 1986, Packwood initially swore off PAC money this time and instead milked pro-Israel individual donors with letters filled with statements like these: “As a United States Senator, and a staunch friend of Israel, I have waged many, many legislative battles on Israel’s behalf…. instead of spending all my time raising money for my own reelection campaign, I’d prefer to devote my time and energies to protecting and defending the security of Israel.”

Another letter, in reference to the Madrid peace talks, asks, “Shouldn’t the Israelis get all of their land back?....there is no better historical claim to all of Judea and Samaria than that of the Jews.” To buttress his argument, Packwood’s letter includes a map of the old Jewish kingdom including not only the land West of the Jordan River, but also a swath of territory on the East.

Recently Packwood received attention for another shocking letter in which he writes, “I am frequently asked why I am so strongly pro-Israel—considering the very small Jewish population in the state of Oregon…. I have learned that Israel’s interests are America’s interests ….As a concerned friend of Israel, my commitment is to continue to support America and Israel, one and inseparable, now and forever.”

Letters like these helped Packwood raise $2.7 million in individual donations in 1991. But now that polls show him to be in danger of losing, Bob Packwood has turned to PACs as well and has managed to raise $51,350 in pro-Israel PAC money in less than three months.

Packwood has been a key actor in blocking arms sales to Arab States, including co-authorship of a 1987 letter to then-Secretary of State Schultz opposing arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Packwood is also one of the prime movers in maintaining consistently high levels of economic and military aid to Israel.

Arlen Specter, Republican Senator from Pennsylvania
Though his seat was once considered safe, he is now being challenged from the right in the Republican primary, and will face a strong Democrat in the fall.

State Representative Stephen Freind has made Israel an issue in the Republican primary, charging Specter with selling his vote to “the most powerful political action committee in the United States, and that’s AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee]. Friend also characterized Specter’s support for the Israeli loan guarantees as being “in direct contravention of the President’s peace plan.” Friend’s election chances are slim, however, because he is not well-known in the state and because those who do know him view him as an extremist candidate.

Lieutenant Governor Mark Singel, a friend of Arab Americans who has announced “I am both pleased and proud to have the support of the Arab-American community in Pennsylvania” and Bob Colville, a District Attorney from the Western part of the state, are the leading Democrats.

Specter has sent out his share of pandering letters this year including one raising the bogeyman of Arab Americans out to get him. Specter’s letter read in part, “The Arab lobby and their anti-Israel network already are planning a well-financed campaign in an attempt to remove Senator Arlen Specter from office. He was one of the first to speak out against the sale of AWACs to Saudi Arabia even though it meant going against the leader of his own party in 1981.”

I personally challenged Specter on this point and received press coverage in Pennsylvania which noted that his letter was nothing more than a sad attempt to exploit Jewish fears in order to raise money.

For all of his pandering, Specter received $88,250 in pro-Israel PAC money in 1991, which represents 16% of his total PAC receipts.

Specter is a very strong supporter of maintaining high levels of economic and military aid to Israel, and was the original sponsor of the Senate 252 which linked “Most Favored Nation” trading status for the Soviet Union to the establishment of direct flights from the Soviet Union to Israel. He has also been active in opposing U.S. contacts with the P.L.O. and arms sales to Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia.

Robert Kasten, Republican Senator from Wisconsin
Bob Kasten is noted as a pro-Israel lobby point man in the Senate. In 1991 he initiated a letter to President Bush urging emergency assistance be granted Israel to help it pay for expenses incurred as a result of the Gulf War. Kasten co-sponsored Senate 2119 which granted a $400 million dollar loan guarantee to Israel in 1990 to help resettle Soviet Jews, and he was also the Republican co-sponsor of the bill to grant the $10 billion loan guarantees back in October of 1990 and served as the main intermediary between the pro-Israel community and the Bush administration during the recent negotiations over the guarantees.

Political experts have doubts about Kasten’s ability to win reelection, and justifiably so. He squeaked by in his last reelection bid in 1986 with just 51% of the vote, making him the first Republican Senator reelected in Wisconsin in 30 years.

This year he faces a strong potential challenge from either State Senator Russ Feingold or Congressman Jim Moody. Based on recent polls, experts give Feingold the early edge, but Moody is a tough campaigner and his home district of Milwaukee is also Kasten’s electoral stronghold. Either one is capable of unseating Kasten

Just as the Democrats have targeted Kasten for defeat, pro-Israel PACs worried about his reelection prospects poured $70,300 into his campaign coffers in 1991.

A final note: the contributions from pro-Israel PACs received thus far by the candidates noted above are small because it is early in the election cycle, but amounts and the candidates who receive them are indicators of where the big money will go as campaign ‘92 develops. It can estimated at this point that the three Senators mentioned here will each receive more than hundreds of thousands of dollars before the election year is over. We’ll be exploring this issue in a future article.

In next week’s article, we’ll preview the 1992 election for members of Congress.

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