The most significant Jewish political story of the day is the news that an African American politician might be challenging a first-term African American incumbent in a majority African American congressional district near Washington.
That’s because the race has the potential to become a proxy war between J Street and supporters of more traditional pro-Israel groups.
On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that two-term Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey is passing up a run for county executive and is forming an exploratory committee to run against first-term incumbent Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) in September’s Democratic primary — a surprise to many in the Maryland Democratic Party.
This comes about six months after some pro-Israel leaders in the Washington area, upset with the J Street-endorsed Edwards for her stance on Israel and the Middle East, floated the idea in a Politico article of backing a challenger with views more to their liking (an idea I questioned at the time.)
And while it’s unclear what kind of chance Ivey has at knocking off Edwards, he is a serious candidate who would likely be able to raise money in both the pro-Israel community and in other circles.
As a first-term incumbent, Edwards doesn’t have much of a voting record on Israel issues and in interviews hasn’t said anything all that controversial about the Jewish state.
But she raised the ire of some Jewish leaders with just one vote — her decision to vote "present" on a resolution last January during the Gaza war which backed Israel’s right to defend itself and reaffirmed U.S. support for the Jewish state, while also encouraging a "sustainable" cease-fire in Gaza. (Edwards said she voted present because she didn’t feel it was appropriate for the U.S. Congress to weigh in on the issue the morning after the United States had voted to abstain on a U.N. resolution calling for a cease-fire, but that she “did not want to send a signal to anyone that it was appropriate to send rockets into Israel.”)
Some in the Jewish community have also felt she has not communicated well or reached out sufficiently to them. And last month, she added a second vote that supporters of AIPAC and other mainstream Jewish groups didn’t like when she weighed in against a resolution condemning the controversial Goldstone Report on the Israeli war in Gaza.
But while Edwards was being slammed by some in the Jewish community, she was being embraced by J Street. The left-wing pro-Israel group endorsed her in the 2008 election, and after the Politico piece from June, J Street PAC sent out an appeal that raised $15,000 for the congresswoman in just four hours and more than $30,000 overall.
With an Ivey decision to run, it would present the opportunity for supporters of AIPAC and pro-Israel PACs to back a legitiamte, attractive candidate against a candidate who has been closely allied with J Street.
While Ivey, as a prosecutor has no voting record on Israel, he did visit the Jewish state in 2006 with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and analysts say he would be a more moderate candidate on a variety of issues compared to Edwards — who has become a darling of progressives nationally.
Even if Ivey does get financial backing from pro-Israel forces, though, it’s an open question whether he really has a chance to knock off the incumbent. Edwards, after all, defeated an eight-term incumbent last year in a Democratic primary — an impressive feat — and other than from some Jewish leaders, there doesn’t seem to be anyone in the overwhelmingly Democratic district dissatisfied with her service. And in a district which includes a few sections of Montgomery County with a signficant Jewish population but is overwhelmingly made up of middle-class African American neighborhoods in Prince George’s County, it seems unlikely that Israel would be a major issue in the primary election. If anything, judging from a town meeting Edwards had on the issue earlier this year, her district wants her to be even more left-wing on the issue and wished she had voted no on that Gaza legislation earlier in the year.
Anyway, the Post piece quotes Ivey as saying that he wants to run for Congress because he used to work on the HIll and it’s an exciting time in Washington. Ivey has served as senior legislative assistant to Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and chief counsel to former U.S. Senate majority leader Tom Daschle and was assistant U.S. attorney for Washington in the 1990s.
To underscore the surprise at Ivey’s move among politicos, the Post has a quote from a prominent Maryland Democrat:
"I was shocked," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert). "I think it’s a bold move on his part."