Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff’s elevation, from documentary producer, to serious contender for a solid-red congressional seat was an exquisite bit of political alchemy: one part charisma, two parts timing and about 1,000 parts anti-Donald Trump fervor. Ossoff didn’t quite meet the threshold to take Republican Tom Price’s seat outright, but he’ll have another chance in June’s runoff.
Meanwhile, Democrats are eager to repeat his magic in the few remaining special congressional elections, and in 2018 congressional races across the country.
We’ve scoured those upcoming races for Jews with a shot to be the next Jon Ossoff — upstart Jewish candidates with a serious shot at nabbing a Republican’s House seat.
Below, meet two Jewish Democrats running in 2018 who might fit the bill, and one Senate race where one might still emerge.
Daniel Helmer could be a robot built in a lab to win a House seat.
He’s an Army veteran and a Rhodes scholar, a West Point graduate who speaks Arabic and has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. (Less camera-ready is his current job: a management consultant at the Boston Consulting Group.)
Helmer, 35, is running in 2018 to unseat second-term Republican Barbara Comstock in Virginia’s 10th District in Washington’s suburbs. He’s a grandson of Holocaust survivors, according to a 2003 JTA profile. One grandfather served under Moshe Dayan in Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.
“I decided, based on my family history, that I had an obligation to serve,” Helmer told JTA at the time, regarding his decision to join the Army. “My family came to America and not only survived, but thrived.”
Helmer could face a crowded field in 2018. Two other Democrats have already said they plan to run. The Washington Post reported earlier this week that he says he has already raised $120,000, which could give him a solid head start.
Mike Levin has a tough year ahead of him. The California Democrat is taking on Darrell Issa, the high-profile Republican congressman who has represented portions of San Diego County in Congress since 2001.
Democratic officials say they think they have a chance against Issa, whose district voted heavily for Hillary Clinton. Levin is one of a handful of Democratic hopefuls expected to try to steal his seat.
Levin, whose father is Jewish and mother is Catholic, is an environmental lawyer and the former executive director of the Democratic Party of Orange County. He told the San Diego Union-Tribune last month that he decided to run for Congress after watching Trump win the presidential race.
“Really, when Donald Trump became president of the United States, I was there in New York watching election returns, and I realized on the way home that the time is now for all of us,” he told the paper. “It’s all about the urgency of personal action. For me, I started evaluating right then and there.”
In his 2016 re-election race, Issa beat Democratic challenger Douglas Applegate by a tiny margin. Levin will face Applegate in the primary, along with others who will presumably step forward over the next year.
Nevada Senate Challengers
Democrats don’t have many opportunities to pick up Senate seats in 2018, but one state where they could have a sliver of a chance is Nevada, where Republican Dean Heller will run for re-election. Democrats see Heller as vulnerable because he’s the only Republican senator running for re-election in 2018 whose state voted for Clinton.
Heller has no clear challenger among the state’s Democratic ranks. But a February roundup by the dean of the Nevada political press corps, Jon Ralston, in the Nevada Independent listed a couple of Jewish names among potential challengers.
Chief among those potential Senate candidates is Jacky Rosen, a first-term member of Congress representing the Las Vegas suburbs. Rosen chose to run for Congress after serving three years as president of Temple Ner Tamid, the largest Reform synagogue in the Las Vegas area. Rosen hasn’t said anything publicly about ditching her congressional seat to run for Senate.
Also on Ralston’s list is Stephen Cloobeck, a wealthy Jewish businessman who has plans to run for Nevada governor. Cloobeck told the Las Vegas Review-Journal this year that he would spend $5 million on his run for governor. Ralston says that if Cloobeck changes his mind, he might have a big impact on the Senate race.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.