Schneider announced last month that he wouldn’t support the accord, saying that it “fails the initial threshold test of preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.” Rotering said rejecting the deal without proposing a viable alternative “is an irresponsible disservice to all who are concerned about the security of the United States, Israel, and the world.”
“The people in the district are as split as people are in the nation,” Rotering said in an interview. “People are interested in the contrast between the two of us because they themselves probably have different positions on the topic.”
In Rotering and Schneider’s district, voters are closely watching the issue.
“It’s something the people in the district are keenly aware of,” Schneider told National Journal. “They study it, they follow it. We have family that lives in Israel, we have neighbors. Our kids spend summers in Israel.”
Schneider, who held the seat from 2013 to 2015, has deep and long-standing ties in the Jewish community. “He was a pro-Israel activist before he even thought about running for Congress,” said Aaron Keyak, a former aide to Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who is the lone Jewish congressman from New York to endorse the Iran deal.
Schneider has been active with the American Jewish Committee, AIPAC, and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. In Congress, Schneider served on the Foreign Affairs Committee and was part of Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s working group on Israel. In addition to JACPAC, the National Jewish Democratic Council PAC has endorsed his campaign to return to office.
But Rotering’s connections to Jewish organizations also run deep. She belongs to the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, the Jewish United Fund, and Hadassah, a Jewish volunteer women’s organization. Rotering is a member of JACPAC as well.
She has company among Chicago Jewish Democrats backing the Iran deal, too. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has endorsed it, while Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who is the only Jewish member of Illinois congressional delegation, is also backing the agreement.
Some Democrats suggested that Rotering's endorsement of the deal could endear her to more progressive Democrats in the district. The candidate who ran closest to Schneider in his 2012 Democratic primary was progressive activist Ilya Sheyman, now the executive director of the liberal group MoveOn, which backs the Iran deal.
“[Rotering] is clearly going to alienate some people with this position,” said one Chicago-area Democratic strategist, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the situation. “But she has the possibility to attract a lot more.”
Others said that in a race where both candidates are perceived as pro-Israel, the Iran deal won't be a decisive factor among Democratic voters. “I think there's some necessity for obviously a new face and challenger to try to take some risk on some positioning,” said Thomas Bowen, a Democratic strategist in Chicago. “But foreign affairs isn’t usually an issue that changes Democratic primary outcomes.”
It is, however, the sharpest dividing line between Schneider and Rotering. And their district, which pays attention to issues affecting Israel like few others, has become a miniature version of the national fight over the Iran deal.