Aided by hefty contributions from Jewish donors and a big vote total in predominantly white precincts, former state judge Denise Majette soundly defeated McKinney - 58 percent to 42 percent - in Tuesday's primary in Georgia. Majette is strongly favored to win the Nov. 5 general election in the solidly Democratic district near Atlanta.
Although both Majette and McKinney are African-Americans, the unusual interest shown in their primary by pro-Israel groups backing Majette, and by pro-Muslim groups backing McKinney, triggered talk Wednesday of a potential for sharpened conflicts between blacks and Jews - in Georgia and elsewhere.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, said that "at the grassroots" among African-American voters, there is a growing perception that "Jewish people are attempting to pick our leaders. ... There is some concern about that. It's concern about any candidate being targeted by a special- interest group for voting on any one issue."
McKinney, a frequent critic of pro-Israeli policies, received substantial campaign donations from Arab and Muslim sources outside her district. Also influencing the outcome was a strong white turnout for Majette, a failure by McKinney's campaign to produce high turnout among supporters, and a split among Atlanta's most prominent blacks. Several of them declined to endorse McKinney, including former Mayor Andy Young and baseball's home run king, Henry "Hank" Aaron.
In her concession speech, McKinney said, "It looks like the Republicans wanted to beat me more than the Democrats wanted to keep me." Many Republican voters took advantage of Georgia's open primary system to cast ballots against McKinney in the Democratic contest. McKinney infuriated many Republicans earlier this year by suggesting that President Bush might have known in advance about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and did nothing because his associates in the military and energy industries stood to profit in the aftermath.
In some majority white precincts, McKinney lost by margins exceeding 30-1. In the Kingsley precinct, for example, Majette got 1,012 votes to McKinney's 30. The Austin precinct's margin was 1,123 to 33.
It was the Jewish-Muslim conflict, however, that dominated much of the post-election reaction. In a TV interview on election eve, McKinney's father, state Rep. Billy McKinney, D-Atlanta, was asked to explain why his daughter was in a tough fight. He spelled out his answer: "J-E-W-S."
The McKinney-Majette contest is the second House Democratic primary this year in which an African-American incumbent who had taken controversial stands sympathetic to Palestinian and Muslim causes was ousted by a lesser-known black challenger financed heavily by out-of-state Jewish donors and pro-Israel PACs. In Alabama, Rep. Earl Hilliard, D-Ala., lost to Artur Davis. Davis and Majette raised and spent more than $1 million each, more than McKinney or Hilliard could manage.
Some Democratic strategists privately suggested the party will benefit in some respects from McKinney's and Hilliard's losses, along with the departure of House Democratic whip David Bonior, D- Mich., who lost a gubernatorial bid, and Rep. James Traficant, D- Ohio, who was expelled and sent to prison. "These guys were thorns in the side of the Jewish community and cited repeatedly by Republicans trying to get Jews to quit our party," one Democrat said.
Jesse Jackson, founder of the Rainbow/Push coalition, does not share this view. He said Democrats must preserve the coalition between blacks and Jews because they support much of the liberal agenda and are crucial to many Democratic candidates.