Republican candidate loses US House primary in victory for pro-Israel lobbyists | House of Representatives

Republican John Hostettler has lost his House primary in Indiana, delivering a victory to pro-Israel groups who sought to block the former congressman from returning to Washington. The groups attacked Hostettler as insufficiently supportive of Israel at a time when criticism of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has hit new highs because of the war in Gaza.

When the Associated Press called the eighth district primary race at 7.49pm ET, less than an hour after the last polls closed in Indiana, Mark Messmer led his opponents with 40% of the vote. Messmer, the Indiana state senate majority leader, will advance to the general election in November, which he is heavily favored to win because of the district’s Republican leanings. The victor will replace Republican congressman Larry Bucshon, who announced his retirement earlier this year.

The primary concludes a contentious race in which pro-Israel groups poured millions of dollars into the district to attack Hostettler, who served in the House from 1995 to 2007. The groups specifically criticized Hostettler’s past voting record on Israel and some comments he made that were deemed antisemitic.

In a book that he self-published in 2008 after leaving Congress, Hostettler blamed some of George W Bush’s advisers “with Jewish backgrounds” for pushing the country into the war in Iraq, arguing they were distracted by their interest in protecting Israel.

Those comments, combined with Hostettler’s vote opposing a resolution expressing solidarity with Israel in 2000, after the start of the second intifada, outraged groups like the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) and United Democracy Project (UDP), a Super Pac affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

According to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission, UDP spent $1.2m opposing Hostettler while the RJC Victory Fund invested $950,000 in supporting Messmer.

One UDP ad attacked Hostettler as “one of the most anti-Israel politicians in America”, citing his vote against the resolution in 2000. The CEO of RJC, Matt Brooks, previously lambasted Hostettler for having “consistently opposed vital aid to Israel [and] trafficked antisemitic conspiracy theories”.

But the groups’ interest in a Republican primary is a notable departure from their other recent forays into congressional races. So far this election cycle, UDP has largely used its massive war chest to target progressive candidates in Democratic primaries. UDP spent $4.6m opposing the Democratic candidate Dave Min, who ultimately advanced to the general election, and the group has also dedicated $2.4m to supporting Democrat Sarah Elfreth in Maryland, which will hold its primaries next week.

Aipac and its affiliates reportedly plan to spend $100m across this election cycle, so UDP may still get involved in other Republican congressional primaries. However, the groups will likely remain largely focused on Democrats, as Republican lawmakers and voters have generally indicated higher levels of support for Israel since the start of the war in Gaza.

A Guardian review of the statements of members of Congress after the start of the war found that every Republican in Congress was supportive of Israel. Even as criticism of Israel’s airstrike campaign in Gaza has mounted, one Gallup poll conducted in March found that 64% of Republicans approve of Israel’s military actions, compared with 18% of Democrats and 29% of independents who said the same.

Other polls have shown that most Americans support calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, and hopes for a pause in the war did briefly rise this week. Hamas leaders on Monday announced they would accept a ceasefire deal, but Israel soon dashed hopes of peace by launching an operation to take control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

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