The West Virginia U.S. Senate campaign to fill the unexpired term of the late Robert C. Byrd contains plenty of drama.
Since the state’s governor, Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, and businessman John Raese, a Republican, won their respective parties’ nominations, the two candidates have clashed in a struggle to out-conservative one another.
Raese has accused Manchin of being a rubber stamp for President Obama while Manchin has flaunted his support by the National Rifle Association in a commercial in which he uses a high-powered rifle to shoot holes in a copy of the proposed federal cap-and-trade bill — an unpopular piece of legislation in the Mountain State.
As of last week, the race was a toss up with one poll putting Manchin ahead, and another giving the edge to Raese.
But one issue the two candidates have yet to address is Israel.
Unlike the Pennsylvania Senate race in which Democrat Joe Sestak and Republican Pat Toomey are spending large sums of money staking out their own positions on Israel while attacking their opponents’ stances, neither Manchin nor Raese have spent much effort addressing the Middle East — or any foreign policy issue for that matter.
In fact, during their only televised debate of the campaign Monday night in Morgantown, the four candidates in the race — two minor party candidates also are running — were asked only one question that strayed from domestic issues: do they support the troop build-up in Afghanistan.
“I can’t recall hearing either candidate talk much foreign policy at all,” said Neil Berch, associate professor of political science at West Virginia University, who is following the race. “I honestly can’t recall a single foreign policy.”
After several requests to both campaigns for their candidates’ views on Israel, the Manchin campaign sent a position paper to the Chronicle Wednesday in which Manchin acknowledges “the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel.” And he promised to “always seek to ensure Israel’s strength and economic growth.”
“As our most steadfast and strongest ally in the Middle East, the U.S. and Israel have worked together to resist the growing threat of religious fanatics, rogue countries and terrorists,” he also wrote. “We must ensure that Israel remains the bulwark of democracy in the Middle East and has the resources it needs to defend itself from terrorists and hostile neighbors.”
The Raese campaign did not respond by deadline, and his website contained no positions on Israel.
How the candidates in this race would vote on support and funding for Israel matters, since the man they seek to replace — Byrd — frequently voted against Israel’s interests.
“At various times Byrd, the longest serving senator in history, expressed support for cutting Israel’s big U.S. aid allotment, voted against or refused to sign resolutions and letters endorsed by pro-Israel groups and expressed contempt for Israeli government policies,” wrote James Besser, an Israel correspondent for The New York Jewish Week.
Aside from a few high-profile positions — namely, his stances on the wars in Vietnam and Iraq — Berch said Byrd built his reputation on bringing federal money and projects to West Virginia, not on foreign affairs.
The two major candidates’ interactions with the state’s small Jewish community have also been few, though as governor, Manchin has made appointments to, and budgeted for, the West Virginia Holocaust Education Commission. He also attended a Kol Nidre service in Charleston early in his administration.
There are about 2,500 Jews in West Virginia, according to e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)