Political candidates backed by the controversial Middle East advocacy group J Street were trounced at the polls on Tuesday, with J Street’s endorsees losing in almost every competitive race.
J Street scrambled to save face on Wednesday after two candidates that the group described as must-wins were defeated by their Republican opponents.
While J Street spread its money across 92 races around the country—the majority of them uncompetitive contests—J Street candidates locked in tight races were repudiated by voters.
Analysts say this is further proof that voters are increasingly likely to embrace more hawkish pro-Israel candidates over the dovish views characteristic of J Street and its allies in the Obama administration.
Democrats Mark Udall (Colo.) and Bruce Braley (Iowa), both of whom lost yesterday, received repeated endorsements and cash from J Street, which claimed that both candidates would counter “dangerous, neoconservative ideas” in the Senate.
“We can’t afford to lose these two [Senate] races,” J Street political director Dan Kalik wrote in a September email to supporters, urging them to donate at least $18 dollars to Udall and Braley.
“If Mark and Bruce don’t have the resources they need in these last few weeks, you can expect their opponents’ dangerous, neoconservative ideas to gain momentum in the Senate,” J Street wrote at the time.
J Street’s efforts to make the races about its anti-Israel agenda appears to have flopped, as voters in both states favored the Republican challengers Joni Ernst and Cory Gardner.
J Street endorsee Michelle Nunn, who the group made several high-profile pitches for, lost her race in Georgia to Republican David Perdue, a candidate J Street described as “shameful.”
“These guys think they can scare votes their way by borrowing a page from the neoconservative playbook. Will you prove them wrong?” J Street asked in an October fundraising pitch for Nunn.
The organization’s efforts to unseat Republican Sen. Susan Collins in Maine also ended in failure.
Similarly, House of Representative candidates endorsed by J Street did not fare very well in competitive races.
Longtime J Street ally, Rep. Joe Garcia (D., Fla.), was beaten Tuesday evening in a close race against Republican Carlos Curbelo.
Incumbent Rep. Nick Rahall (D., W.V.), who spent 38 years in the House, got the boot by voters despite J Streets many overtures on his behalf.
Rahall, a longtime J Street ally, was an endorsee of the group’s infamous “Gaza 54” letter that asked President Obama to forcefully end Israel’s “siege” of the Gaza Strip.
In Illinois, J Street-backed Rep. Brad Schneider (D) lost to former Rep. Robert Dold (R), who has aggressively taken on J Street and described it as dangerous to the U.S.-Israel alliance.
Pro-Israel insiders rejected J Street’s efforts to pretend that its election-year efforts were a success.
“J Street does this after every election,” said one senior official with a pro-Israel organization. “They endorse dozens of no-risk candidates so that when their competitive picks get crushed, which they almost always do, J Street can still claim victory.”
“But it’s a dumb game that they’ll always lose,” the source said. “The American people are overwhelmingly pro-Israel and elect overwhelmingly pro-Israel candidates. Pro-Israel groups have sort of the opposite problem but for the exact same reason. It’s hard to cram more pro-Israel lawmakers into Congress, given how it’s almost already completely maxed out.”
One former official with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) said that J Street’s involvement in mostly uncompetitive races served no purpose.
“Republicans woke up Wednesday morning thanking J Street for diverting resources into some of the safest races in America,” the former AIPAC official said. Democrat “Barbara Lee’s chances of losing [her House seat in California] were slightly less than that of Barack Obama’s losing yesterday.”
Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), said in a statement that voters rejected J Street’s extremist brand of anti-Israel advocacy.
“This election cycle included races in which support for Israel was a significant issue,” Brook said. “Given the increased tensions between the Obama administration and Israel, these races took on even greater importance. J Street, a leading voice in support of President Obama’s pressure tactics on Israel, drew a line in the sand and made a concerted effort to elect like-minded candidates to Congress.”