WASHINGTON — Embattled Rep. James Moran could face a primary challenge next year from a former staffer at the country’s top pro-Israel lobbying group.
A Democrat representing Washington’s northern Virginia suburbs, Moran has apologized several times for claiming earlier this month that American Jews were pushing the country into war. But several key Jewish political fundraisers say they are prepared to back Jeremy Bash, a former employee at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, if he chooses to take on the seven-term incumbent.
Talk of a Bash candidacy comes after six influential Jewish congressmen sent a letter to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announcing that they would not support Moran in the 2004 primary. Soon after, Pelosi forced Moran, who represents a heavily Arab-American and Muslim district, to step down as House Democratic regional whip.
Bash’s supporters say he will be able to tap into the same national network of Jewish political donors that last year helped oust two black Democratic incumbents in the House, Earl Hilliard of Alabama and Cynthia McKinney of Georgia.
“I consider Jeremy a friend and I would definitely support him,” said Michael Granoff, a New York venture capitalist who helped organize Jewish fundraising efforts in support of Artur Davis, the Birmingham attorney who defeated Hilliard. Mitchell Berger, a prominent Florida attorney and former Democratic state finance chair, and Steven Grossman, a past president of both Aipac and the Democratic National Committee, also said that they would be willing to help Bash.
“There would be a natural tendency on the part of Jewish donors to support Jeremy,” said Grossman, who is currently the top fundraiser for Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean.
In addition to his stint at Aipac, Bash attended high school at Charles E. Smith High School, a Washington-area Jewish day school, and served as a counselor at Camp Ramah in New England in Palmer, Mass. His father, Marvin Bash, is rabbi emeritus at the Arlington-Fairfax Jewish Congregation.
Still, Grossman said, as a home-grown Virginia Democrat, Bash’s “deep commitment to service” would have “wide appeal” beyond Jewish voters in the district. For his part, Bash said that he “would not hold myself out as the Jewish candidate.”
“I would hold myself out as the candidate which would best represent the district,” said Bash, an associate in the Washington office of law firm O’Melveny & Myers. Bash’s wife, Dana, is a White House correspondent for CNN.
Despite a rosy fundraising outlook and plenty of potential help from friends in the party elite, Bash faces an uphill battle. Two popular Democratic office holders — Katherine Hanley, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and State Senator Leslie Byrne, a former U.S. House member — have suggested that they might challenge Moran next year.
Jerome Chapman, an Alexandria, Va., attorney who has led an informal effort in the local Jewish community to oust Moran, said he would not support Bash, arguing that a more experienced candidate would stand a better chance of winning.
Moran’s office was tightlipped about the race. “Questions about future political races will be addressed at the appropriate time,” said a spokesman for Moran.
“If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we wouldn’t be doing this,” Moran said at a March 3 event, according to a report in the Reston Connection newspaper. Moran, who has long been criticized by pro-Israel activists over his record on Middle East issues, reportedly added: “The leaders of the Jewish community are influential enough that they could change the direction of where this is going. And I think they should.”
In the latest of several written apologies, Moran said last week that he “should not have singled out the Jewish community. I deeply regret any hurt I may have caused.” Discussing the crisis at a March 15 pancake-breakfast fundraiser for his brother, a Virginia state senator, Moran broke into tears before a crowd of 200. Moran has said that he was simply trying to say that religious groups should do more to oppose the war.
Moran, whose daughter is in the process of converting to Judaism as part of her plans to marry a Jew, met with local Jewish leaders over the weekend to try to smooth things over. But the congressman’s office would not comment on the specifics of the meeting.
The chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rep. Robert Matsui of California, said that Moran’s comments were “offensive, insensitive, and have no place in the Democratic Party.” But a spokesman for the committee, which is charged with raising money for Democratic candidates, said that it generally stayed out of primary fights. The spokesman said it was too early to discuss the 2004 elections.