Chosen People

Pro-Israel America wades into Tlaib primary with new round of endorsements

The group is backing Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey in the Michigan House contest it labels one of four ‘key races’

Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Detroit City Clerk Janice M. Winfrey speaks at the TCF Center during a press conference.

The bipartisan advocacy group Pro-Israel America, whose political arm has gained prominence for its feisty presence in recent election cycles, is taking on Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) in the Democratic primary for Michigan’s newly drawn 12th Congressional District.

In a new round of House endorsements — including five Democrats and three Republicans — PIA will announce on Monday that its political action committee is backing longtime Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, who is among a handful of Democratic challengers going up against Tlaib this August in Detroit and its surrounding suburbs.

“Pro-Israel America is working to ensure that the 118th Congress reflects broad, bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel relationship,” PIA’s executive director, Jeff Mendelsohn, said in a statement to JI.

PIA is so far the only pro-Israel group to have weighed in on the race. The field remains  somewhat fluid as other potential Democratic candidates have been mentioned as possible contenders.

Tlaib, a two-term congresswoman who is among the most outspoken critics of Israel in the House, announced in January that she would seek reelection in the heavily Democratic 12th District shortly after longtime Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) said she would retire at the end of her term. Tlaib, the only Palestinian American lawmaker in the House, has represented the 13th District since 2019.

Winfrey is mounting her second congressional bid after failing to unseat the late Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) in a 2016 House primary. Last year, she won a fifth term as city clerk, defeating Denzel McCampbell, who serves as a communications director for Tlaib’s campaign, by more than 40 points.

Tlaib’s Democratic challengers also include former Michigan state legislator Shanelle Jackson, who told JI she would run in January and filed with the Federal Election Commission last month. Former Michigan state Rep. Phil Cavanagh, who is the son of a former Detroit mayor, said last week that he was dropping out of the race and would instead run for judge in Wayne County.

Early polling suggests that Tlaib maintains a wide lead over an array of potential and declared challengers. In a late January survey conducted by Target Insyght and the Michigan Democratic Black Caucus, Tlaib pulled in 62% of the vote from a sample of 600 registered primary voters in the district. Winfrey, by contrast, came in with just 4%. 

PIA told JI it is listing the matchup between Winfrey and Tlaib as a “key race” because it expects a “highly competitive” primary battle.

The group says it has helped raise more than $6 million for pro-Israel candidates, including $800,000 for newly elected Rep. Shontel Brown (D-OH) last summer in a hotly contested special House election against progressive stalwart Nina Turner. PIA’s PAC also plastered billboards opposing Turner throughout the Cleveland-based district.

PIA gave no indication of what its approach will be in Tlaib’s primary, which is one of four “key races” the group is including in its latest round of endorsements.

The other candidates PIA is prioritizing — all of whom are Democrats competing in open-seat primaries against left-leaning opponents — include Pittsburgh attorney Steve Irwin, Chicago Alderman Gilbert Villegas and Kentucky state Sen. Morgan McGarvey.

Both Irwin and Villegas have also gained backing from Democratic Majority for Israel, whose political arm released its first round of congressional endorsements in late January.

Last week, AIPAC’s new PAC announced its first round of endorsements in the upcoming primary cycle, including more than 100 House and Senate candidates. There was no overlap with PIA’s latest batch of endorsements.

The other candidates PIA is now backing include Rob Menendez, Jr., the son of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who is running to replace outgoing Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ) in New Jersey’s 8th Congressional District, and three Republican incumbents: Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ); Pete Stauber (R-MN) and Bill Huizenga (R-MI).

Because of redistricting, Huizenga is seeking reelection in a district he now shares with Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), who is Michigan’s longest-serving congressman. Upton has yet to declare if he will run for another term. 

PIA, which endorsed Upton last July, said it is “awaiting any updates from” the congressman but is “also endorsing Huizenga in the interim.”

Speaking more broadly, PIA’s Mendelsohn said the new slate of candidates includes “proven leaders in Congress” as well as “promising new voices who support a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.”

“We will continue to bring the power of the pro-Israel grassroots community to help these candidates fight and win in their competitive races, including those against anti-Israel opponents,” he told JI.