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Pro-Israel groups target former GOP congressman's comeback attempt

A super PAC tied to AIPAC and the Republican Jewish Coalition are launching new ad campaigns against former GOP Rep. John Hostettler in Indiana.
Former Rep. John N. Hostettler.
Former Rep. John Hostettler is looking to return to Congress nearly 20 years after leaving office.Scott J. Ferrell / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

Two pro-Israel groups are launching new campaigns against former GOP Rep. John Hostettler of Indiana, who is looking to return to Congress nearly 20 years after leaving office.

The Republican Jewish Coalition and the United Democracy Project, a super PAC tied to the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, announced this week they are launching ads targeting the former congressman, who is part of a crowded field of Republicans competing to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Larry Bucshon.

“John Hostettler has a terrible record on Israel that is way out of line with the voters in Indiana’s 8th District,” United Democracy Project spokesperson Patrick Dorton told NBC News. “The voters deserve to know his ‘out of the mainstream’ track record on this issue.”

The group launched an ad on Thursday criticizing Hostettler, who served in Congress from 1995 to 2007, for his vote opposing a resolution voicing support for Israel amid its conflict with the Palestinians in October 2000. The ad is part of a more than $500,000 campaign.

The Republican Jewish Coalition also cited that vote and others opposing aid for Israel in a statement announcing it would spend $1 million against Hostettler on the airwaves, saying in a statement that Hostettler has also “trafficked antisemitic conspiracy theories.” The Jewish Insider, which first reported United Democracy Project’s spending, noted that after he left Congress, Hostettler wrote in a book that the U.S. engaged in the Iraq War to protect Israel.

The RJC also announced it is backing state Sen. Mark Messmer in the crowded primary. Whoever wins the May 7 GOP primary is likely to head to Congress, given the district’s strong Republican lean.

This is the first competitive GOP primary that the United Democracy Project is engaging in. The group has spent tens of millions of dollars across a slew of hotly contested Democratic primaries in the last two years, although the group did also launch ads targeting GOP Rep. Thomas Massie after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks against Israel.

“We are evaluating Republican and Democratic districts. Our goal is to build the largest bipartisan pro-Israel majority in Congress,” Dorton said. “So we are going to look at every opportunity to do that, and we are especially focused on ensuring that detractors of the U.S.-Israel relationship aren’t elected.”

These groups are not the first to spend against Hostettler. A super PAC known as America Leads Action recently launched an ad tying Hostettler to liberal Democrats, with a narrator saying, “Washington really changed John Hostettler.”

America Leads Action has spent nearly $250,000 on ad airtime in the district, per the tracking firm AdImpact. The group was also involved in other recent GOP primaries, targeting candidates aligned with the hard-right House Freedom Caucus.

Attempts to contact Hostettler were not successful, as his campaign website does not list contact information. No one answered a call to a phone number that appears to be tied to Hostettler.