Eight congressional races to watch

Josh Mandel, the Republican state treasurer of Ohio, is challenging the incumbent Democratic senator, Sherrod Brown. (Citizens for Josh Mandel)

NEW YORK (JTA) — JTA has identified eight congressional races of particular Jewish interest and four others featuring potentially viable Jewish contenders.

Top eight congressional races to watch:

U.S. Senate:

Hawaii — Mazie Hirono (D) vs. Linda Lingle (R)

Strongly Democratic Hawaii is tough turf for Republicans, but picking up a Senate seat in President Obama’s birth state would be a real coup. And the GOP found a strong candidate in the state’s Jewish former governor, Linda Lingle. Still, Lingle has an uphill fight against Rep. Mazie Hirono in the race to replace retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka, a Democrat.

Nevada — Shelley Berkley (D) vs. Dean Heller (R)

With control of the Senate on the line, both parties are betting on Nevada. Rep. Shelley Berkley, who is Jewish, has been trailing incumbent Dean Heller in the polls, but only by a few points, and the race is considered a toss-up. Heller, a former congressman, was appointed to fill the seat last year following the scandal-induced resignation of Sen. John Ensign, a Republican. Berkley, who has strong union ties and is known as an Israel hawk, is a political nemesis (and former employee) of casino mogul and GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. Berkley’s Senate campaign faced a setback this summer when the House Ethics Committee launched an investigation into allegations that she had used her office to benefit her husband’s business interests.

Ohio — Sherrod Brown (D) vs. Josh Mandel (R)

Ohio is the frontline in the fight for the White House, and it’s also a battleground in the struggle for the Senate. Republicans tapped state Treasurer Josh Mandel, a boyish-looking Jewish former Marine and Iraq War vet, to take on Sen. Sherrod Brown, a champion of organized labor and a favorite of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing. Brown has been ahead in the polls, usually by single digits.

U.S. House of Representatives:

California, 30th District — Howard Berman (D) vs. Brad Sherman (D)

This is the race that Democrats and supporters of Israel wish weren’t happening. The fierce redistricting-fueled fight in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley pits two veteran pro-Israel incumbents against each other. Rep. Howard Berman, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a key player on immigration and intellectual property issues, enjoys the strong support of California’s Democratic congressional delegation, elected officials and Hollywood machers. But Sherman is an aggressive retail politician and represents much more of the new district than Berman. Sherman beat Berman by 10 points in the nonpartisan primary that sent the two Jewish Democrats to their general election face-off and enjoys a 13-point lead in a newly released poll.

Florida, 22nd District  — Lois Frankel (D) vs. Adam Hasner (R)

The race in this South Florida district, stretching along the coast of Broward and Palm Beach counties, pits two Jewish politicians against each other. Lois Frankel, who previously served as mayor of West Palm Beach and in the state legislature, is stressing health care issues and trying to tie her opponent to past Republican Medicare overhaul proposals. The district, which had been represented by Tea Party favorite Rep. Allen West, a Republican, was redrawn to make it substantially more Democratic. Adam Hasner, a former majority leader in the state’s House of Representatives, abandoned a foundering campaign for the GOP Senate nomination and entered the congressional race after West decided to run in a neighboring district. Hasner, who ran for Senate as a staunch conservative and is an abortion rights opponent, is stressing the importance of working across the aisle in his congressional campaign. Frankel is regarded as having the edge in the race.

Illinois, 10th District – Robert Dold (R) vs. Brad Schneider (D)

First-term Rep. Robert Dold has been active on Middle East issues, but he had some big shoes to fill. He won the congressional seat vacated by fellow Republican and now-Sen. Mark Kirk, who had been a leader in efforts to support Israel and sanction Iran. Dold now faces a two-pronged challenge with a redrawn suburban Chicago district that is more Democratic and a strong opponent who has a long history of involvement in the Jewish and pro-Israel communities. Brad Schneider, a management consultant, has been involved with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Chicago’s Jewish federation and the American Jewish Committee. Dold is stressing his support for abortion rights, some gun control measures, stem cell research and civil unions for gay couples. Observers see the race as leaning toward Schneider.

New Jersey, 9th District — Bill Pascrell (D) vs. Shmuley Boteach (R)

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach may be a serious long-shot to unseat incumbent Rep. Bill Pascrell in this heavily Democratic northern New Jersey district, but he’s also one of the GOP’s more colorful candidates. Boteach, who bills himself as “America’s rabbi,” kept himself in the spotlight for years by starring in a reality TV show, befriending celebrities such as Michael Jackson and writing books with such titles as “Kosher Sex,” “Kosher Adultery” and “Kosher Jesus.” Pascrell had handily won a redistricting-induced intra-party primary against stalwart pro-Israel Rep. Steve Rothman. The primary featured some ethnic tensions when an Arab Pascrell supporter questioned the loyalties of local Orthodox synagogue presidents who had urged Jewish Republicans to change party registrations so they could vote for Rothman. In the general election, Boteach has tried to paint Pascrell not only as insufficiently pro-Israel but also as insufficiently supportive of Arab aspirations for freedom.

New York, 1st District — Tim Bishop (D) vs. Randy Altschuler (R)

Randy Altschuler is considered to be the best bet to add a second Jewish Republican to join Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the GOP’s House caucus. He is facing a rematch with Rep. Tim Bishop, who beat him narrowly in 2010 in the Long Island district. Bishop has attacked Altschuler for being the co-CEO of a firm that helped companies outsource office work overseas. Altschuler’s campaign has emphasized his candidate’s more recent work as chairman of an electronics recycling firm as an example of creating green jobs in the United States. Political observers see the race as tilted toward Bishop but consider it competitive.

Other House races of note with Jewish contenders:

California, 47th District:

Alan Lowenthal, a Democratic state senator, is favored to win in this new congressional district spanning parts of Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Florida, 9th District:

Former Rep. Alan Grayson, a Democrat, is a verbally combative liberal who was defeated in 2010 and looks set to return to Congress in a strongly Democratic Orlando-area district.

New Jersey, 3rd District:

Democrat Shelley Adler is running against incumbent Rep. Jon Runyan, a Republican and a former pro football player who in 2010 unseated her now late husband, John Adler.

Rhode Island, 1st District:

First-term Rep. David Cicilline, a Democrat, is in a tough fight to hold on in a solidly Democratic district after embarrassing revelations about severe budget problems in Providence, where he had previously served as mayor.