A surprisingly close race involving one of the pro-Israel community's least favorite lawmakers, Rep. Cynthia McKinney, is poised to become a Middle East proxy fight.
McKinney, a left-wing Georgia Democrat with a long history of criticizing Israel, finds herself in an unexpected run-off election after failing to win a majority in her July 18 primary. A defeat in the August 8 runoff would be McKinney's second ouster from Congress in four years and cap a series of major gaffes, including her delayed apology after allegedly hitting a Capitol Hill police officer in March.
For months, McKinney, whose district includes parts of the Atlanta suburbs, has been raising out-of-state money from Muslim and Arab Americans. Now, with her stumble in the primary, the legislator's pro-Israel critics are quickly rallying behind her rival, former DeKalb County Commissioner Hank Johnson. Like McKinney, Johnson is an African-American.
"He's just sky-rocketing in popularity," said Rabbi Neil Sandler, the religious leader of Atlanta's Ahavath Achim Synagogue, which hosted Johnson at a pro-Israel rally on July 23. According to Sandler, the audience gave Johnson a "tremendous ovation," the most enthusiastic response of any of the politicians in attendance.
After learning of McKinney's unexpected runoff, several of the country's largest pro-Israel political action committees are rushing to make contributions, with an eye toward arming Johnson with sufficient cash to purchase valuable television and radio advertising.