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McBride faces competition in Delaware House race

State Treasurer Colleen Davis and Eugene Young, the director of the state housing authority, are both positioning themselves as pro-Israel candidates in the Democratic primary

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State Treasurer Colleen Davis and Eugene Young, the director of the Delaware State Housing Authority

State Sen. Sarah McBride, a nationally known state lawmaker, made waves as the first entrant in the primary for Delaware’s open House seat in 2024. But McBride now faces possible competition, with the entry of two new candidates, State Treasurer Colleen Davis and Eugene Young, the director of the Delaware State Housing Authority, into the Democratic primary.

McBride nevertheless finds herself in a strong position — owing to her national profile as the first openly transgender state senator in the U.S., connections to the Biden family and her strong fundraising coming out of the gate. She’s also been endorsed by half of the state Senate’s members, as well as Delaware’s attorney general and several state House members.Young and Davis, who each entered the race in late July, have yet to file initial fundraising reports.

Paul Brewer, a professor of communication and political science at the University of Delaware, told Jewish Insider that McBride “came out very strong with her announcement,” which “pretty clearly established her as a serious candidate for the nomination.”

Davis highlighted to JI that she’s the only candidate in the race who’s been a statewide elected official — having won two statewide races — and emphasized that she’s “raising the funds necessary to run a competitive race” and is “continuing to hit our [fundraising] targets.” She also mentioned her own relationship with the Bidens.

“I’ve developed a real touchpoint in the community and a number of the needs that I’ve seen” across the state as treasurer, Davis continued, highlighting her work as treasurer on programs aimed at closing the wealth gap and aiding people from a variety of vulnerable and marginalized communities.

Davis explained that her childhood gave her a firsthand experience with the financial hardships that she’s worked to address in her current role.

“As a little girl growing up, my family struggled after my father’s business went bankrupt, and we were evicted, lost our home, we sold all of our possessions,” Davis said. “And you know, we went from rental home to rental home, school to school. And to be fair, it was a challenge. And through the hard work of my parents, the kindness of neighbors and teachers — that was really how we got by.”

She added, “I’ll just say that now raising three children here in Delaware, I know that we need more leaders in Congress who come from the working class. We’re focused on fighting for families and keeping them safe and secure,” naming healthcare affordability, gun control protecting democracy and abortion rights as other priorities.

Brewer noted that the state treasurer position has been a launchpad for other politicians in the past, adding that her “political track record… would at least on paper make her seem like a serious candidate as well.”

Young told JI he’d raised more than $100,000 within 24 hours of launching his candidacy — so “we’re going to be more than competitive.”

He highlighted his work in his current role at the Housing Authority as well as time as a legislative aide and a range of work in the nonprofit sector on issues including children, criminal justice reform and civil rights.

“I think this breadth of experiences — and more — provide me with a unique perspective in dealing with a lot of the issues that everyday Delawareans are facing day in and day out,” he said. “I don’t believe there’s any candidate that has the same level of experience as I do in so many different areas and serving our state… Being able to use my background, my understanding, and connecting with people in order to better serve them and take that voice and continue is what makes me unique from any other candidates.”

The housing director, citing his background as a college athlete, also pledged to be the “hardest-working campaign” as well as pursue the “most diverse campaign in this race,” seeking to build a coalition from across the state and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Young’s focuses in office would include housing, health care, economic opportunity, job training, small business and reproductive rights.

Brewer noted that Young had run unsuccessfully against a more moderate Democrat to be the mayor of Wilmington, but that the run had established himself as a favorite of progressive Democrats in the state party. His roots in Wilmington could also help him secure votes in the area, Brewer added.

The campaign could be a long one — Delaware’s primary elections won’t be held until Sept. 10, 2024 and the filing period will be open for nearly a year to come, until July 9 of next year. In federal elections, Delaware consistently votes strongly Democratic, so the primary winner is likely to be Delaware’s next House member.

State Rep. Kerri Evelyn Harris — an Air Force veteran and staunch progressive who challenged Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) in 2018 from the left with the backing of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and an outside group aligned with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — is seen as a potential additional entrant into the field.

Brewer told JI that he wouldn’t expect major differences among the three declared candidates, given that they are all generally “mainstream progressive Democrats” but said that Harris, if she joined the race, would represent a lane to the left of the currently-declared field.

On foreign policy, both Davis and Young, like McBride, take largely conventional positions on the U.S.-Israel relationship, both emphasizing that they’re supportive of continued U.S. security aid to Israel and oppose adding any conditions or restrictions to it.

Davis called Israel a “vital and strategic partner” and a “stabilizing force” in the region for which the U.S. must provide “unwavering” support. 

“We should recognize that Israel will be the best stewards, and will have the best understanding of what the needs are and how to allocate support in the most effective ways to address challenges,” she added, comparing the situation to state and local-level stewardship of COVID-19 relief funding with which she was involved as treasurer.

Young said that his priorities in foreign policy are protecting the United States, promoting peace and protecting and aiding U.S. allies, including strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship and seeking paths to Israeli-Palestinian peace. 

He also emphasized that he sees the existing guardrails that apply to all U.S. foreign aid as adequate, and that, since Israel is an ally, “it’s better to communicate” on issues that may arise without imposing “restrictions on needed resources.”

Young said that his approach to Israel was shaped in part by his past work leading the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League, which he said highlighted the long-standing ties between the Black and Jewish communities through the civil rights movement — a history of “people coming together to focus on those who were in need and those who needed support.”

Young confirmed to JI that he’d had a conversation “months ago” with individuals affiliated with Justice Democrats — a progressive campaign group that has frequently found itself at loggerheads with pro-Israel candidates and outside groups — and has not had spoken further with them. Young said Israel didn’t come up during that conversation.

Davis and Young each said they would want to visit Israel if elected; Young added that it was one of two places he’d told his team he’d visit — first, the U.S. southern border, and second, Israel.

Both candidates said they support a two-state solution and each framed the Abraham Accords as potentially part of the foundation for an eventual Israeli-Palestinian settlement. Young said he’d want to be more fully briefed before commenting on Saudi Arabia’s reported demands for normalization with Israel, while Davis indicated that she’d be open to a deal along the lines publicly discussed. 

She specifically mentioned that assistance to Saudi’s nuclear program — one of the more thorny issues raised in reported negotiations — could help with global progress toward a renewable and sustainable energy future.

They also both expressed support for the Biden administration’s efforts to arrive at a diplomatic agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program.

Davis, however, was skeptical of the opportunities for such a deal in the short term, expressing doubt that the current Iranian government is open to negotiations. She floated the possibility of offering Iran humanitarian technologies, such as desalination technology, as an incentive for dismantling its nuclear program in an eventual negotiation.

At home, Davis and Young each committed to speaking out against and fighting antisemitism.

“We absolutely have to identify and speak out any time there is hate speech of any kind, any antisemitic activity,” Davis said. 

“Breaking down barriers is a bigger and a more impactful second step,” she continued, highlighting her involvement during the pandemic in work with the “interfaith community” to address community needs and emergencies. “It also helps to keep the focus on service and that humanitarian focus, where we can all start to see each other as not what we’re bringing to the table when it comes to our background, but the likeness [among] all of us.”

Young emphasized the need for “being aggressive and letting people know where one stands on these issues. Antisemitic rhetoric is unacceptable.”

“We as leaders, whether in Congress or not, everyday citizens, we have to continue to work collaboratively — build bridges, communicate with one another,” he continued. “And also, people, when they do such things, should be held accountable.”

He said that he’s worked with Jewish groups in and out of state in his past positions, including conversations with the Anti-Defamation League following the killing of George Floyd in 2020, as well as close collaboration with faith-based organizations in-state.

“That’s what makes Delaware very much unique — we’re around a million people in our state, which means for the most part, it’s not too hard to get in contact with one another, and be in touch with one another,” Young said.

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