Americans go to the polls in five days’ time for the midterm elections, in which they will not be voting for a president but for all the seats in the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate. As in any electoral battle of this kind, there are a number of candidates who are more positively inclined toward Greece and whose election could prove instrumental for this country.
Among them in the upcoming race is Bob Menendez, Greece’s most fervent and powerful supporter in Washington, particularly when the Democrats hold the majority. He bears a lot of similarities to the powerful Paul Sarbanes, who has now retired (his son, John, is a Congressman in Maryland, a state which is represented in the Senate by another friend of Greece, Chris Van Hollen).
Menendez is one of the few officials in Washington right now with such in-depth knowledge of Greece and Cyprus. He is particularly sensitive to Cyprus issues, both as a matter of principle but also because of his close friendships with leaders of the diaspora community, particularly the very active Nikos Mouyiaris and Tasos Zambas in New York, and Endy Zemenides in Chicago. These personal relationships, as well as visits to the divided island, have helped shape his views on the Cyprus issue to a significant degree.
The New Jersey senator is currently leading in the polls against his Republican rival, Bob Hugin, a former pharmaceutical CEO and President Donald Trumps’s campaign manager in New Jersey. But the margin is thin and the election could be tight.
A defeat for Menendez would be a serious blow for Greece and Cyprus, as the experienced Democratic legislator has been responsible for putting serious issues concerning the two countries on the agenda and raising awareness. He has taken initiatives, either alone or with colleagues, on Cyprus, Greek-Turkish relations, the name dispute with Skopje, and also for the protection of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
On numerous occasions at the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, which he has also chaired in the past, he has grilled State Department nominees with hard questions, often blocking their confirmation when he found their answers unsatisfactory.
A lot is at stake next Tuesday and not just for the United States, for Trump, for the Democrats and the Republicans, but also for the Greek-American community, which is being called upon to show that it has the reflexes, organizational skills and money to make sure that its strongest supporter stays in the Senate.
This is the least it can do, as Greece’s sundry rivals on the international stage will be more than happy to get rid of such an outspoken champion of Greek causes.