Two Jews and a Wine Store Dude Walked Into a Democratic Congressional Primary

(JTA) — There are 14 candidates — including nine Democrats — running to replace Rep. Chris Van Hollen in Maryland’s 8th District, which encompasses suburbs of Washington, D.C. Two of the Democrats are Jewish, as are two of the five Republicans. The district includes a big chunk of Montgomery County, which is estimated to be as much as 10 percent Jewish.

The Republicans are seen as having no chance in the general election. Leading contenders among the Democrats are Jamie Raskin, a state senator who is Jewish, and Kathleen Matthews, a former newscaster who is married to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.

And then there’s David Trone, whose wife and children are Jewish and who owns the Total Wine & More chain, and who is self-funding — to the tune of $12.4 million, a national record.

When Trone appears before Jewish audiences, as he did earlier this month at a debate at Kemp Mill Synagogue convened by the Orthodox Union, he mentions that next month, he will receive an Anti-Defamation League award for his charitable work. His mailers also mention the award.

It sounds like an endorsement, but the ADL is at pains to say it’s not.

“He was locked in by ADL as an honoree long before he entered this race,” an official of the organization told JTA. “ADL will be making it crystal clear that we are not endorsing his campaign.”

Know your voters.

Some of the 14 candidates in the race for Maryland’s 8th District have done their research and some have not, and it plays out in interesting ways in the Jewish campaign.

The front-runners, Raskin and Matthews, have accepted J Street’s endorsement, but are also careful at Jewish events to mention that they have plenty of friends at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. They all oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

There have also been some missteps:

Israel is sovereign, and likes it that way.

Speaking at Kemp Hill, Trone may have pandered a bit too much to a crowd proud of Israel’s independence.

“Israel is without question our most important ally,” he said. “We should look at Israel as the 51st state.”

Trone remembered a local favored cause, extending statehood to Montgomery County’s neighbor.

“Or if you count the District of Columbia, the 52nd state.”

There’s always audio or video.

Speaking at an Iranian-American Candidates Forum on March 27, Trone said: “We certainly support the Iranian deal. It’s the right thing.” A blogger caught it on video.

Speaking to the Orthodox Union crowd on April 8, he cast the Obama administration as out of its depth and said it did not get “the right deal.”

“Iran … understands only strength. What was most important to the administration was getting the deal because that was the legacy the administration wanted, getting a deal, and when you approach a situation like that, you don’t get the right deal,” he said.

Another candidate, Joel Rubin, who as the State Department’s liaison to Congress had advocated for the deal, pointed out the discrepancy on Facebook. Trone now maintains he is aligned with popular (and Jewish) Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., who voted against the deal, but now says the best way forward is to make sure it is implemented correctly.

Soften ‘em up and then deliver the blow.

Rubin helped found J Street and has been a prominent advocate, in and out of the federal government, for the Iran deal.

At the Kemp Mill synagogue event, he led with fond memories of leading a Zionist Organization of America youth tour of Israel in 1993 before dropping the “J Street” bomb on the Orthodox and politically conservative crowd. There were murmurs, but the room mostly stayed friendly.

Contrast with Ana Sol Gutierrez, a delegate in the state Assembly who chose the April 17 debate at the JCC in Rockville to announce, in the middle of answering an unrelated question, that she is endorsing Bernie Sanders, hardly the favorite for a mainstream pro-Israel crowd. The room was awash in gasps.

Israel one-upmanship

Did you know Kathleen Matthews spent New Year’s in Israel with husband Chris?

Did you know Jamie Raskin has family in Israel and likes hanging with them when he’s there? Which is frequently?

Did you know Joel Rubin’s bubbe Yetta endorsed him and that he has family in Israel and he’s there, frequently, and that he remembers Yitzhak Rabin saying “There will be peace in the North,” and that he can say it in Hebrew, and will, multiple times? “Yihiyeh shalom betzafon.”

And, oh yes, David Trone is getting an award from the ADL.

Don’t ignore Republicans just because they don’t win.

At least 200 voters turned out for the Orthodox Union’s April 8 Kemp Mill event; barely 20 turned out for the GOP version on April 14 at Young Israel Shomrai Emunah in Silver Spring.

But if you missed it, you missed a question from the audience rare, if not unprecedented, in a congressional primary debate: “How do you define the word Zionism?”

The answers from the three candidates present were poignant:

Aryeh Shudofsky, a financial services analyst who is a graduate of Yeshiva University, described getting to know an Israel where “secular Israeli Jews are as proud of being Israeli as the religious ones are.”

Dan Cox, an attorney and a conservative Christian, recalled walking through Auschwitz and witnessing “the evidence of why we must stand for freedom.”

And Jeff Jones, a local Methodist pastor, said Zionism, for him, was the commandment to share one’s heritage.

“We have got to understand how to share our story with the next generation,” he said. “It takes effort, it takes a family, it takes a community.”

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Two Jews and a Wine Store Dude Walked Into a Democratic Congressional Primary

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