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Joel Rubin, who worked in Jewish outreach for Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, launches bid for U.S. House seat

The former Obama official and J Street director will run in a crowded primary for Maryland’s 6th District

Joel Rubin, a national security expert and a former Obama administration official, is expected to launch his second bid for an open U.S. House seat on Monday. 

Rubin, 52, will join a number of Democrats running to succeed Rep. David Trone, a three-term congressman from Potomac, Maryland, who opted to run for an open U.S. Senate seat held by retiring Sen. Ben Cardin. The 6th Congressional District, like most of the rest of the state, runs deep blue. 

He is the seventh Democrat to enter the race. The crowded field includes Hagerstown Mayor Tekesha Martinez and Joe Vogel, a 26-year-old Jewish state delegate. 

Rubin, a resident of Chevy Chase who grew up in the Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh, has extensive federal and foreign policy experience

After serving two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Costa Rica, he worked at the Agency for International Development and the Energy Department before joining the State Department’s military affairs as a civil servant in the George W. Bush administration. He later worked for Sens. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. During the Obama administration, Rubin served as the State Department’s chief liaison to the House of Representatives – where he worked to build congressional support for the Iranian nuclear deal – and as deputy assistant secretary of state 

In an interview, Rubin said he views Congress as “ground zero for the fight over the direction of this country.” Referencing his public service as being motivated by tikkun olam, the Jewish concept of repairing the world, he said, “This is the moment to continue to take that fight into an arena that desperately needs to straighten out.” 

Rubin also boasted of his deep ties to Jewish communal and political groups. He was the founding political and government affairs director at J Street, the liberal advocacy group that promotes peace and democracy; and was the executive director of the American Jewish Congress, a mainstream pro-Israel advocacy group. During the 2020 presidential election, he served as Jewish outreach director for the Bernie Sanders campaign and later helped the Biden campaign with Middle East policy and Jewish engagement.

As a progressive, Rubin said he sees himself as a defender of Israel, a country he described as one “that seeks peace, justice and democracy” and at the same time, speaks out against the expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank and the “anti-democratic maneuvers” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He pointed out that his great-grandfather, who emigrated to the U.S. from Romania in the 19th century, was an active Zionist and traveled to Israel after the Holocaust to search for his cousins and help them build a life in Israel. “For me,” he said, “support for Israel goes very deep.”.” 

This is Rubin’s second campaign for Congress. In 2015, he finished in eighth place in an open primary that was won by Rep. Jamie Raskin. 

The filing deadline for the May 14 primary is Feb. 9, 2024, and other candidates might still still join the race. Several Republicans have also filed to run for the seat. Rubin said he’s confident he’s learned from past mistakes to successfully make his case to the voters of the district and prevail.

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