With many of the nation’s voters fixated on the races for control of Congress, arguably elections on the state level have more of an impact on the people’s daily lives. Similar to the federal level, Republicans dominate in control of state governor’s offices, with 33 out of 50 states held by Republicans.
While many of the issues at the state level are predictably less concerned with foreign policy, recent polls have also shown that Jewish voters are more concerned with domestic issues such as affordable health care, the economy or social safety-net programs such as Medicare and Social Security than Israel. At the same time, issues related to Israel have come up on the state level with such as efforts to pass anti-BDS measures, which have been approved by 25 states in recent years, as well as economic and high-tech partnerships between individual states and Israel.
Below are the top seven gubernatorial races to watch for the Jewish and pro-Israel community.
Note: Jewish population figures are from 2012, and according to the North American Jewish Data Bank by the Jewish Federations of North America.
Jewish population: 638,985 (3.4 percent of state population)
Summary: The race between Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis has been volatile from the start with the former leading the latter by just 3.2 percentage points in the RealClear Politics average.
Gillum has been accused of associating with the far-left, anti-Israel group Dream Defenders, whose founder, Phillip Agnew, has ties to Ahmad Abuznaid, a supporter of the U.S.-designated terrorist group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
In response to the criticism of his Dream Defenders association, Gillum said in front of a synagogue audience that they “say Andrew Gillum is an anti-Semite because of a group that is organized originally to fight back against police brutality wherever it exists decided to support him.”
“So we’re going to take every decision by that group and put that on Andrew’s back and make him carry it, forgiving all his work prior to this point, forgiving his relationships prior to this point,” he continued.
Additionally, Gillum has associated with the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has been accused of being anti-Israel, including speaking at an event by the group in 2016, whose organizer, then-Legislative and Government Affairs director Laila Abdelaziz, has openly supported the U.S.-designated terrorist group Hezbollah.
Moreover, Gillum’s running mate, Chris King, claimed that he lost his campaign in 1999 to be president of Harvard University’s undergraduate council, part of the student government election, because he was “nailed to the cross.”
DeSantis, despite accepting and returning all but $2,000 of a $20,000 contribution from a pro-Israel Republican donor who tweeted that President Barack Obama was a “MUSLIM n*gger,” has been one of the most ardent pro-Israel members of Congress. DeSantis said, if elected, he would be the “most pro-Israel governor in the country” and vowed his first trip abroad as governor would be to the Jewish state.
For one, the congressman has sought closure for American victims of Palestinian terrorism and has held the U.S. Department of Justice accountable for not prosecuting those responsible. He also backed the Taylor Force Act, enacted into law to prevent U.S. taxpayer funds from supporting the Palestinian Authority’s initiative rewarding terrorists and their families.
DeSantis has also supported U.S. President Donald Trump’s agenda on Israel, from withdrawing the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, both occurring in May.
Funding: DeSantis has received $6,000 directly from GOP megadonors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who are on the campaign’s Finance Leadership Team. The two also have given $500,000 to an affiliated political action committee (PAC), Friends of Ron DeSantis, which has garnered donations such as $250,000 from Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus.
Quote: “I think Gillum can win because he’s a Democrat in a competitive state in a Democratic-leaning year,” Inside Elections editor and publisher Nathan Gonzales told JNS. “He might win in spite of his ideology, not because of it.”
Jewish population: 297,935 (2.3 percent of state population)
Summary: Incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner trails billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker by 15.7 percentage points in the RealClear Politics average.
In 2015, Rauner signed anti-BDS legislation into law, prohibiting state pension funds from associating with companies that boycott the Jewish state. Also under his watch, Illinois allocated $500 million towards the Discovery Partners Institute, an interdisciplinary public-private research institute based in Chicago that made Tel Aviv University its first foreign academic partner.
Additionally, Rauner urged voters to not support neo-Nazi Arthur Jones, running as a Republican against Rep. Dan Lipinski in the state’s safely Democratic 3rd Congressional District. “Vote for anybody but Arthur Jones,” the governor posted on Twitter. “Nazis have no place in our country, and no one should vote for him.”
The Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago (JUF) held separate forums with the candidates earlier this year.
Pritzker, whose net worth is approximately $3.5 billion, served as chairman of and led the fundraising behind the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, which opened in 2009. He and his wife’s foundation has given more than $2.7 million to the JUF.
Funding: Both Pritzker and Rauner are mostly self-funding their campaigns.
Jewish population: 238,200 (4.1 percent of state population)
Summary: Incumbent Republican Larry Hogan leads former NAACP CEO Ben Jealous by 18.7 percentage points in the RealClear Politics average.
Hogan signed an executive order last year prohibiting state contractors from supporting BDS.
During a trade mission, accompanied by the state’s academic and Jewish leaders, to Israel in 2016, Hogan said that there has been “a great relationship [between Maryland and Israel] for many years and it’s going to get even stronger,” with $145 million in exports in 2015.
Meanwhile, Jealous has extensively worked with anti-Israel activists such as Linda Sarsour and has given different answers as to whether he would overturn Hogan’s anti-BDS measure. Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, labeled this development as “a tonal inconsistency,” even though the Jealous campaign said “he has no plans to rescind the executive order, so long as it is affirmed in court, because he believes the BDS movement is counterproductive to achieving peace.”
Funding: The family of Washington Nationals’ owner Ted Lerner—a huge backer of Jewish causes such as the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington and area-Jewish day schools—has given at least$15,875 to Hogan. Prominent Maryland Democratic donor Jessica Bronfein, who is a director-at-large at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, has contributed $6,000—the maximum allowed under state law—to Hogan.
Jealous has received a combined $48,000 from George and Alexander Soros, and Steyer, in addition to $12,000 from Jewish-American entrepreneur Mitch Kapor.
Quote: “The Democratic nominee is a very hardline progressive. Even in a state like Maryland, not all the Democrats are on board with that platform,” former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich, whom Hogan served under as the state’s Secretary of Appointments, told JNS. “A Republican has to have crossover appeal and that particularly includes the large Jewish community in Baltimore and in the D.C. suburbs.”
Jewish population: 277,980 (4.1 percent of state population)
Baker went on a trade mission to Israel in December 2016, his first one in office. Four months beforehand, he signed onto a letter circulated by the American Jewish Committee, along with 19 other governors, in opposition of BDS.
Gonzalez has yet to make any public statements on Israel or BDS.
Funding: Neither Baker nor Gonzalez received funding from major Jewish or pro-Israel donors.
Quotes: “Fortunately, ‘Jewish’ issues have not been at play in Massachusetts political races, and I don’t think that pro-Israel voters have any specific reason to prefer Jay Gonzalez over Charlie Baker in the governor’s race—or vice versa,” said Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby. “Baker has pushed to expand business connections between Israel and Massachusetts, but any Massachusetts governor would presumably do so.
“Suffice to say that the Jewish community broadly and JCRC specifically have appreciated a warm and productive relationship with Governor Baker covering matters both where we have had alignment and disagreement,” Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, told JNS. “We look forward to having a productive relationship with whomever the voters of Massachusetts choose to serve our Commonwealth.”
Jewish population: 82,270 (0.8 percent of state population)
Summary: Democratic nominee Gretchen Whitmer leads the state’s attorney general, Bill Schuette, by 9.2 percentage points in the RealClear Politics average.
Whitmer has come under fire for declining to comment on the BDS movement at a town-hall event in late August.
“I recognize the fundamental rights are that we have the right to speak,” Whitmer said in response to a question from an audience member on BDS, according to a recording of the event. “No one gets to infringe on those rights on my watch.”
She responded by attacking her opponent and by citing her support of the state’s anti-BDS legislation that became law in 2017, and if elected pledged to “do everything in my power to uphold it as Michigan’s next governor.”
She also mentioned proudly sponsoring to reaffirm the unbreakable partnership between Michigan and Israel. I believe that the BDS movement is an affront to that relationship, and I am 100 percent opposed to BDS.”
Additionally, she condemned pro-BDS University of Michigan professor John Cheney-Lippold, who denied a student a letter of recommendation last month for a semester-long study abroad program in Israel.
“I’d be very upset as a parent if that happened to my child,” she said last week in an interview. “It’s unfortunate that this professor’s views are standing in the way of an academic opportunity for a student at U-M.”
Her running mate, Garlin Gilchrist, posted anti-Israel tweets in 2009, supporting Hamas and accusing those “kissing Israel’s ass.”
“Foreign aid should be about the people, not the politics,” Gilchrist wrote in 2007. “Why would the West punish the Palestinian people for voting for Hamas into power when Hamas provided goods and services that Fatah could not or was not providing?”
Schuette’s campaign slammed those developments in a TV attack ad. “Whitmer-Gilchrist: The most left-wing ticket in Michigan’s history,” says the narrator. “So extreme, they attacked Israel and praised Hamas … Sympathizing with terrorists … Whitmer-Gilchrist: An extreme risk we can’t take.”
Like Whitmer, Schuette, who called the 2017 anti-BDS law “a positive step,” also slammed Cheney-Lippold.
“Free speech is one of the cornerstones of what this country was built on; but this professor did it solely because of his animus toward Israel,” Schuette said in an interview last week. “Leaders must set an example, whether you’re at an institution like the University of Michigan or an elected leader.”
Funding: None of the usual big donors such as Soros and Adelson have contributed to the race, as most of the contributions to both campaigns have been local. A PAC by Mark Bernstein, a lawyer who is a member of the University of Michigan Board of Regents, has given at least $68,000 to Whitmer.
Jewish population: 1,761,020 (9 percent of state population)
Summary: Incumbent Democrat Andrew Cuomo has a 23-point leadover Republican nominee Marc Molinaro, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released late last week.
Cuomo signed an executive order in 2016 mandating state entities to separate themselves from public funds that support BDS.
Cuomo refused to take a stance on the Iran deal and postponed a trip to Israel in May due to violence along the Gaza border, which his opponent blasted, though the governor visited the Jewish state the previous year.
Funding: The Republican Governors Association, which received $3 million in July and September from the Adelsons, is expected to launch $60 million in ads supporting Republican gubernatorial candidates, including Molinaro.
Cuomo has received at least $750,000 from Soros through PACs backing the incumbent.
Quote: “Cuomo is a second-generation government leader,” New York civic advocate Greg Spielberg told JNS. “The Cuomos have had four/five decades to build relationships with and serve the Jewish community, which is huge.”
“Paladino is extreme right; it’s hard to see how his platform could resonate culturally with people who have a history of being outsiders, attacked, marginalized,” he added. “Paladino is a Buffalo/Western New York guy. Downstate New York probably has [more than] 90 percent of the state’s Jewish community.”
Jewish population: 148,680 (1.3 percent of state population)
Summary: Ohio Attorney General and Republican nominee Mike DeWine trails former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray by 2.7 percentage points in the RealClear Politics average.
Though the issue of Israel and BDS haven’t seem to gotten much attention during the campaigns, DeWine was a staunch Israel supporteras a U.S. senator.
Meanwhile, Cordray has repeatedly compared Republicans to Nazis.
Funding: Neither DeWine nor Cordray received funding from major Jewish or pro-Israel donors, though the former has benefited from the Republican Governors, which received $3 million in July and September from the Adelsons, launched a 30-second attack ad in July against the latter.
Quote: “Both Cordray and Dewine have deep ties and strong records of support for the Ohio Jewish community,” Brad Kastan, an Ohio Jewish community lay leader, told JNS. “While some Jewish leaders are worried about Rich’s association with the ‘far-left’ wing of the Democrat Party [close ties to Elizabeth Warren and some unfortunate comments early in the campaign comparing Republicans to Nazis], during his years as Ohio’s AG and Treasurer, he was consistently viewed favorably by many leaders in the Ohio Jewish community.”
“Both candidates have visited Israel; DeWine has made the trip several times,” added Kastan.