The 2018 midterm election campaign was rife with anti-Semitic dog whistles aimed at Jewish candidates and their donors. But it’s unclear if such tactics were of any electoral benefit to the candidates who stooped to employ them.
According to a review conducted by The Daily Beast of notable instances in which anti-Semitic language and imagery were deployed in federal and state campaigns around the country, the bigoted and stereotyping incidents directed at Jewish candidates for office did not appear to help their opponents at the polls.
Out of 25 candidates who were on the receiving end of either stereotypically anti-Semitic tropes or who were gratuitously linked to billionaire philanthropist and longtime far-right cathexis George Soros, 14 were victorious on Tuesday.
In nearly every case, the deployment of anti-Semitic mailers, television advertisements or speeches actually backfired, to one degree or another, drawing negative media attention, particularly after the mass murder of 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue less than two weeks before Election Day drew mainstream attention to the sharp rise in such language over the past two years.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish non-profit that documents and fights anti-Jewish bigotry, anti-Semitic incidents in the United States rose by 57 percent in 2017, the highest number of incidents in more than two decades. The organization blamed the rise in such incidents, ranging from bomb threats against Jewish institutions and places of worship to vandalism and anti-Semitic harassment, on “divisive state of our national discourse.”
“There’s no question we would love to see the president call out anti-Semitism as consistently and clearly as he does other issues,” said Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt at the time. “We should see this as an alarm, a very loud alarm that should get the attention of all of us.”
That rise in anti-Semitic harassment, threats and intimidation bled into the 2018 midterm elections, as dozens of candidates—most of them Jewish, though not all—were targeted with age-old depictions of Jews as covetous orchestrators of global conspiracies, most frequently the use of mailers featuring photos of Jewish candidates hoarding or fondling money.
Kim Schrier, a Jewish candidate for a close congressional race in the Seattle suburbs, was depicted in a Washington State Republican Party mailer as holding a fanned wad of $20 bills, ostensibly meant to depict her support in excessive government spending. Schrier’s campaign called the mailer “an outrageous characterization of a candidate that draws on centuries old anti-Semitic stereotypes,” a characterization that a Washington State Republican Party spokesperson called “baseless and untrue.” Schrier won her race against perennial candidate Dino Rossi on Tuesday by nearly six points.
In Connecticut, a photo of Democratic state Rep. Matthew Lesser was manipulated to give him a wild-eyed stare as he hunched over crumpled fistfuls of cash. His Republican opponent in a race for state senate, Ed Charamut, denied that the mailer—which evokes some of the oldest and ugliest stereotypes deployed against Jews over the centuries—was “something hateful.” Lesser, too, won his race.
In at least two cases, the offending candidates were avowed neo-Nazi fringe candidates who nonetheless managed to secure party nominations. One, Jim Condit Jr., a Green Party candidate running in Ohio’s 2nd Congressional District, began airing an anti-Semitic campaign advertisement on a local radio station in Cincinnati late last week, railing against “billionaire communist Jews” who he felt supported his Republican rival. Hampered by federal laws that prevent radio stations from refusing candidates ad time, the ad ran—though Condit lost.
The Daily Beast’s analysis, though not scientific or exhaustive, of the 435 House races plus Senate along with statewide and state legislative races that concluded on Tuesday did find that a few candidates successfully dropped Soros’ name to their benefit. Those candidates, all Republicans, primarily in safe red seats, generally did not mention the billionaire, often a central puppet-master figure in right-wing conspiracy theories, in the context of their opponents.
All of those candidates won reelection except for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California.