The state of Maryland awarded a victory Tuesday night not only to the Democratic establishment, but also to the mainstream pro-Israel establishment.
Alongside a resounding victory for Hillary Clinton in the presidential primary, Maryland Democrats elected Rep. Chris Van Hollen as their candidate for the Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Mikulski. In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans in a 2 to 1 ratio, Tuesday night’s win makes Van Hollen the likely next senator from the state of Maryland.
The tight race between Van Hollen, a leading congressman with close ties to Democratic leadership, and Rep. Donna Edwards, a progressive lawmaker who sought to be the only African-American woman in the Senate, drew national attention and out of state campaign contributions.
In other races with Jewish interest, State Sen. Jamie Raskin won a Democratic primary to take Van Hollen’s seat in Congress.
Josh Shapiro won a Democratic contest for Pennsylvania Attorney General. Katie McGinty, a chief of staff for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, beat Joe Sestak a former congressman, in the race to face incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Toomey in what is expected to be one of the marquee matchups in the fall.
The Maryland Senate race was a top priority for the pro-Israel community, which was closely watching the battle between an AIPAC-line pro-Israel Democrat and an outspoken critic of Israeli policy. Edwards, in her four terms in Congress, has taken stances that have angered many mainstream supporters of Israel, while securing her backing from the dovish pro-Israel lobby J Street.
The issue of Israel did not play a major role in the public debates between the two Maryland candidates, but it did bring in outside players. Haim Saban, the pro-Israel Democratic mega-donor wrote a $100,000 check for Van Hollen while J Street PAC gave a nod to both candidates, encouraging the group’s supporters to back either one of them through donation’s to the lobby’s funding arm.
Although the race was tight from the start, Van Hollen managed to break off toward the finish line and had a small lead in pre-election polls. On Tuesday, when Marylanders went to the polls, Van Hollen solidified his lead, winning most of the white vote and a third of African American voters.
With a majority of the precincts reporting Tuesday night, Van Hollen was leading by a double-digit margin over Edwards. In his victory speech, Van Hollen praised Edwards “for being a strong advocate for Democratic Party values and priorities.”
Both candidates gave up the chance for re-election in the House when deciding to run for the Senate and so Edwards, one of the few critical voices on Israel in the Democratic side of the aisle, will not serve in the next Congress.
Raskin, who is Jewish, bested eight other candidates to win the Democratic nomination to contest Van Hollen’s seat. The district, comprising much of Montgomery County in suburban Washington, is solidly Democratic, and Raskin, backed by an array of progressive groups, is seen as a shoo-in for the next Congress.
McGinty was picked by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., likely to become the next leader of his party in the Senate. Democrats are still furious with Sestak for beating late Sen. Arlen Specter in a 2010 primary. Specter, one of the few Jewish Republicans in Congress, switched parties the year previous to help pass President Barack Obama’s health reforms, and Democrats hoped to reqard him with reelection.
Sestak went on to lose to Toomey, who used against Sestak his signing onto a letter criticizing Israel for its actions during the 2009 Gaza war.
Shapiro won the Democratic nomination to be Pennsylvania’s attorney general, an office that has been plagued by charges of corruption in recent years. Shapiro, the chairman of the board of commissioners of Montgomery County, a suburban Philadelphia area, acted as an Obama surrogate to Jewish voters during the 2012 election, when he was a state representative.
Nathan Guttman staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Contact Nathan at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman