Can Marilyn Strickland make history in the Pacific Northwest?

In Washington’s 10th congressional district, two Democratic candidates are competing to succeed outgoing Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA) in a race that is viewed as representative of the growing ideological rift between moderates and progressives.

Marilyn Strickland, the former mayor of Tacoma, has earned establishment support from local and national leaders, among them two former Washington governors as well as Reps. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). Most recently, she was CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, where she led the opposition to a head tax on businesses that her opponent holds up as evidence of Strickland’s fealty to corporate interests. 

Meanwhile, Beth Doglio, a community organizer and climate activist who serves in the Washington House of Representatives, has pulled in endorsements from labor groups along with progressive stalwarts like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

“We are running a very good campaign that highlights the differences between myself and my opponent,” Doglio, 55, told Jewish Insider in a recent interview, arguing that her support for such progressive policies as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal stands in contrast to Strickland’s more measured approach to healthcare and the environment. 

But in conversation with JI, Strickland rejected the notion that she is on the moderate end of a binary that many have put forth, she suggested, to create false distinctions. 

“We love labels because it makes it easy,” Strickland, 58, said in a phone interview earlier this month. “As a woman who is Black and Korean, I’ve been labeled my entire life, or people have been trying to assign a label to me. My lane is left-of-center. There are times when I am very progressive on issues, and there are times when I’m more moderate — it really depends on the needs of the people that I want to represent.”

On Israel and the Middle East, however, both candidates seem to hold relatively similar views that are common among the vast majority of Democrats. Strickland and Doglio both support rejoining the Iran nuclear deal and back a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Neither candidate has been to Israel, but each expressed a strong desire to visit if elected to Congress. Both say that they do not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, though the candidates speak differently about the reasoning behind their decisions.

While Strickland worries that BDS could cause damage to Israel’s economy, she believes that it has failed to gain enough traction to do so. Her larger concern is that the movement “paints an inaccurate picture of Israeli life,” she told JI. “It’s antisemitic.”

For her part, Doglio also firmly renounced the movement. “I don’t support what BDS stands for because it would eliminate the Jewish state, which is not a two-state solution,” she said matter-of-factly. Still, Doglio noted that even though she won’t back the movement, she respects BDS as an organizational effort given her background in community activism. “It’s hard for me to take tools out of the toolbox for people who feel strongly about something,” she said. 

According to Doglio, many activists in the Evergreen State are supportive of BDS, which she described as a “tough issue” in her community because of a young Washington native, Rachel Corrie, who in 2003 was killed by an Israeli military bulldozer while defending Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip. Though a court ruled in 2012 that Israel was not at fault for Corrie’s death — and an appeal also was later rejected — Doglio said the issue is still a raw one at the local level. 

“There’s a strong BDS presence in Washington because of that,” she told JI. 

Doglio said she has had several discussions with community members as part of an evolving effort to better understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “There is not a consensus around what a solution looks like,” she said. “The range of views on that within the Jewish community is big, and so I’ve been taking that in and learning as much as I can.”

Doglio, whose Jewish husband has family in Israel, described her “strong connection” to the Jewish state despite never having visited. Doglio said she met with AIPAC about the possibility of going this past December but wasn’t able to make it happen. She told JI that it would be a priority if she is elected.

Marilyn Strickland family photo
Washington State Representative Beth Doglio and her family. (Courtesy)

Strickland, though, is the candidate who appears to have garnered more support from the pro-Israel community. Last month, she earned an endorsement from the grassroots advocacy group Pro-Israel America, whose executive director, Jeff Mendelsohn, described Strickland as a “strong champion of the U.S.-Israel relationship” in a statement to JI. “There has never been a more critical moment to elect officials to Congress who support clear and consistent pro-U.S.-Israel policies.”

In her interview with JI, Strickland made clear that she was committed unequivocally to such policies, which she came to support after having spent time with members of the Jewish community in Washington who are pro-Israel. “It has just given me the opportunity to learn a lot more about the history,” she said.

“I have an understanding now that the U.S. and Israel have a deep and abiding commitment to supporting democracies around the world,” she said. “This is a very special relationship between the two nations, and it’s important to strengthen this relationship, to partner, to ensure that we are sharing our goals of peace and free speech and democracy.”

Her own identity as a Black and Korean woman, she added, has led her to feel a “shared experience of bigotry and prejudice” with the Jewish people as antisemitism is on the rise. “We just want to make sure that, as I have the chance to serve in Congress, my door will always be open,” she said, “and I’m going to be a friend of Israel and a friend of people who want to support Israel.”

“At the end of the day, we all want peace and prosperity, and that is both for Israel and for the Palestinians,” Strickland said, noting that that she was currently reading Yossi Klein Halevi’s Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor to gain more insight into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Jessyn Farrell, a member of Seattle’s Jewish community and a former state representative, said that Strickland brought a similar sense of care to her position as Tacoma’s mayor. “She’s been a real leader on issues that Jewish community leaders have focused on,” said Farrell, who has endorsed Strickland. 

Former Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland. (Courtesy)

According to Farrell, gun violence is a major concern among Washington Jews after a deadly shooting at the Seattle Jewish Federation in 2006 — and as mayor, Strickland passed a resolution supporting universal background checks that Farrell found reassuring. Shortly after President Donald Trump’s election, Farrell recalled, Strickland also reintroduced a resolution to reaffirm Tacoma’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

“It was important to me to make sure that the people of the city I represented understood that we were not going to waver on treating all people with respect and dignity,” Strickland said.

Doglio, who lives in Olympia, has served as a state legislator since 2017 and for the past 13 years has been a senior advisor and campaign director for Climate Solutions, a nonprofit advocating for clean energy. She announced her bid for Congress in February, joining a crowded primary election.

Strickland would be the first Black representative from the Pacific Northwest and also the first Korean-American woman in Congress if she prevails on November 3. Born in Seoul, Strickland moved to Tacoma with her family in the late 1960s. She was on the Tacoma City Council before being elected as the city’s mayor in 2010 and served in that role until 2018. She announced her candidacy in December 2019, shortly after the incumbent, Denny Heck, said he would retire.  

The candidates are vying to represent a district in the western portion of the state that includes the capital of Olympia. There is scant polling in the race, though one internal survey conducted in late August for Strickland’s campaign suggests that she is the favorite, leading Doglio by a margin of 21 percentage points. 

“I feel like, win or lose, we’ve raised really, really important issues,” Doglio told JI.

Michael McCann, a professor in the department of political science at the University of Washington, said that Doglio’s support from organized labor has helped her stand apart from Strickland, whose ties to business when she led the Seattle Chamber of Commerce have been an issue in the race.

“That said, the difference on policy issues and ideology are not great,” McCann told JI in an email, “a moderate progressive vs. more progressive.”

Lee Zeldin contrasts Trump’s record on Israel with Obama’s in reelection pitch

A second Donald Trump administration would “do even more to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Israel,” Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) said in a pitch to participants at a virtual candidate forum hosted by the Orthodox Union on Wednesday, highlighting the administration’s Mideast policy achievements.

Zeldin praised the Trump administration’s record on Israel, contrasting it with the way the Obama administration handled the U.S.-Israel relationship since he entered Congress in 2015. 

“Finally our country was starting to treat Israel like Israel and Iran like Iran, and I do not want to go back to my experience of my first term,” Zeldin, who is running for reelection in New York’s 1st congressional district,, told the group. “I would love to see us build on his progress.” 

“Israelis know that President Trump has had their back every step of the way,” Zeldin continued “Just think of the possibilities if President Trump has four more years in office. Because, with President Trump, he does not wake up the next day and look to just move on to the next unrelated battle. When he scores a win, he asks himself and asks his advisors, ‘What else can we do?’ That’s why we’ve had so many successes in strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship — because the president wakes up the next day saying that he wants to accomplish even more.”

Earlier this week, the OU hosted a conversation with surrogates from former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. 

In a separate Zoom call hosted by the Biden campaign on Wednesday, Israeli-American mogul Haim Saban said Trump’s moves on Israel were largely symbolic. He compared the Jerusalem embassy move to a “bar mitzvah,” noting that only one country, Guatemala, followed the U.S. lead and moved its embassy to Jerusalem. 

Another Central American country, Honduras, is expected to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem before the end of the year, according to a social media post from Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández last month. 

Saban was also skeptical that the president’s withdrawal from the Iran deal had bolstered Israel’s security.

“In the test of results — where are we from a security standpoint — we have Iran opening a new front against Israel from Syria and we have Iran with three times more enriched uranium,” Saban explained. “You draw your own conclusion.”

Saban, who has maintained close ties with Trump’s son-in-law and White House senior advisor Jared Kushner and reportedly helped broker the recent normalization deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, suggested that the president was only a participant of a “photo op” and did not deserve credit for the Abraham Accords. “All the credit should really be going here to Jared Kushner and [Mideast peace envoy] Avi Berkowitz, who worked really hard on it,” Saban said.

After staying on the sidelines during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, Saban, a major Democratic donor and bundler, endorsed Biden in September, hosting a virtual fundraiser in support of the Democratic nominee.

Highlighting Biden’s longstanding support for Israel, Saban said, “The facts speak for themselves. Facts, you know, are a very stubborn thing. Look at the track record. Andall Jews in America [who] care about the U.S.-Israel alliance know that they can sleep peacefully as far as Israel’s security goes under a Biden presidency.”

Cardin assures Orthodox Jewish community: Biden would be a ‘trusted ally’ on Israel

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) assured members of the Orthodox Jewish community on Monday that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden would be a “true trusted ally” who would use his long-standing relationships and credibility amongst world players to “always stand by Israel. Cardin was speaking as a campaign surrogate at a virtual candidate forum hosted by the Orthodox Union, one of two events hosted by the group this week featuring representatives from the presidential campaigns. 

A poll, conducted for the American Jewish Committee between September 9 and October 4 with a margin of error of ±4.2%, showed Jewish voters — by a margin of 75-22 —  favor Biden over President Donald Trump in the presidential race. The survey, however, showed Trump earning the support of 75% of Orthodox Jews, with Biden receiving only 18%. 

Asked how a Biden administration would differ from the Obama administration, Cardin told the group that the former vice president “will never be a mystery” to the pro-Israel community. In a Biden-Harris administration, the Maryland senator suggested, “there will never be a question about U.S. support for Israel. But there will be candid discussions as to what are the best strategies in order to keep [the U.S.-Israel] relationship strong and to protect Israel’s security.” 

According to the AJC poll, which was conducted by phone and had a sample size of 1,334, American Jews believe Biden would be better suited to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship by a margin of 12%. Still 42% approve of Trump’s handling of relations with the Jewish state. 

“I’m sure he will disagree with some decisions made by the State of Israel, but Joe Biden would never compromise the security of Israel, or the basic commitments that we’ve made towards Israel’s security — I am convinced about that,” Cardin stressed. “Joe Biden has said so, and Joe Biden is a person of his word. When Joe Biden tells you something, you know, that he’ll live by those words. His credibility, his honesty is beyond any question. And you’ll have a true friend in the White House.” 

Cardin, who voted against the nuclear deal with Iran in 2015, defended Biden’s current position on the Iranian threat, saying that he’s right in pointing out that Trump’s withdrawal from the international accord has made the U.S. “less safer.” Cardin said that by leaving the JCPOA, the U.S. “lost a key vote in the United Nations on the [arms] embargo against Iran.” 

On the Zoom call, Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) pointed to the rise in antisemitism, saying that “Biden is committed to continuing to protect our Jewish communities, whether through nonprofit security grants… establishing a faith-based law enforcement program dedicated to preventing attacks against houses of worship, strengthening prosecutions of hate crimes, or combating antisemitism abroad.” 

The OU will hold a call with a Trump campaign surrogate Wednesday evening.

New Mace campaign poll shows statistical tie in SC race

A new internal poll shows Republican state Rep. Nancy Mace and incumbent Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC) in a statistical tie in South Carolina’s 1st congressional district, despite some indications that the race has been trending toward Cunningham.

The poll of 400 likely voters, conducted by landline and cellphone calls between Oct. 14 and 16, showed Mace with support from 47% of likely voters, compared to Cunningham’s 45%. The poll had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

This poll is a welcome sign for Mace compared to another internal poll three weeks ago, which showed Mace 6 points behind Cunningham, according to a polling memo shared with JI. Yet another poll, commissioned by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released last week, gave Cunningham a whopping 13-point lead.

Gibbs Knotts, a political science professor at the College of Charleston, told Jewish Insider last week that he expects the final race to be close, predicting a single-digit margin of victory for Cunningham.

The new polling numbers also arrive shortly after Mace announced strong third-quarter fundraising, beating Cunningham by $500,000 and giving her a $500,000 cash-on-hand advantage heading into the race’s final weeks.

First-term Cunningham gains upper hand in battleground South Carolina district

Republicans had high hopes that the party would be able to take back South Carolina’s first congressional district this election. They had a candidate with an impressive resume and solid financial support, a district that President Donald Trump won by 12 points and a first-term incumbent who had been elected by just 1.4 points.

But three weeks out from Election Day, Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC) appears to have secured a solid lead over Republican state Rep. Nancy Mace.

A new poll commissioned by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee found Cunningham leading Mace by 13 points, and race handicappers including the Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball have moved the race from “Tossup” to “Lean Democratic” in recent weeks.

Gibbs Knotts, a political science professor at the College of Charleston, credited Cunningham’s fundraising and “really effective commercials” for his success in widening the polling gap between himself and Mace.

“[He’s] somebody who’s really about not being super ideological,” Knotts told Jewish Insider. “That message has been able to get out, and he’s been able to tell that story a bit more.”

State Rep. Nancy Mace

Cunningham’s advertising has emphasized bipartisanship, Knotts continued, and highlighted votes in which he has bucked the party line. Several of Cunningham’s ads point to the freshman legislator’s fight against a congressional pay raise proposed by Democratic leaders. “There’s nothing I won’t do in D.C. to put the Lowcountry first,” Cunningham says in one ad. 

Cunningham even received praise from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) for his position on coronavirus-related unemployment benefits in a recent senatorial debate.

Nevertheless, Knotts cautioned that the DCCC-commissioned poll may somewhat overstate Cunningham’s lead. “It’s going to be close even with a strong candidate like Joe Cunningham,” he said. “I expect it to remain in the single digits.”

Mace’s campaign disputed the results of the DCCC’s poll.

“Right on cue, after blockbuster Q3 fundraising that breaks national records for amount raised over D incumbents, the DCCC comes out with a polling memo that defies science,” Mace campaign manager Mara Mellstrom told JI. “This race is a toss-up and all interested parties are acting accordingly… Believe your eyes — not a selectively leaked hack poll designed to scare money away at the close.”

Mace raised $2.3 million in the third quarter of 2020, while Cunningham raised $1.8 million. This gives Mace a cash on hand advantage going into the final month of the election — Mace has $1.7 million on hand compared to Cunningham’s $1.2 million, The State reported.

Knotts characterized Mace as having failed to “articulate her clear vision,” according to Knotts.

“She did not have a breakout moment in the debates,” Knotts said. “She had some bright spots… [but] I think Cunningham certainly held his own.”

Knotts also noted that Cunningham has solidified his support among college-educated suburbanites in the district, who are proving to be a key constituency for Democrats nationwide this cycle.

This support also “bodes well” for Democratic Senate candidate Jaime Harrison and Vice President Joe Biden in this year’s surprisingly competitive statewide races, Knotts said.

Can Dan Sullivan hang on in the tightening Alaska Senate race?

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) spent a good portion of the five-week August Senate recess driving through Alaska and meeting with voters in an effort to boost his profile ahead of his November reelection battle. “I’ve been getting out with my wife,” he said in an interview with Jewish Insider as he drove north from Anchorage to the Matanuska-Susitna Valley on a recent September afternoon.

“We’ve covered well over 1,000 miles in my truck,” added Sullivan, estimating that he had interacted with approximately 2,000 voters at outdoor campaign events and rallies during his peregrinations through Alaska. “We were all over the state.”

The Republican senator is well aware that he needs to work hard to defend his seat this cycle. In 2014, the first-time candidate narrowly defeated the incumbent Democrat, Sen. Mark Begich, by just three points. 

Now, the roles have been reversed as Sullivan prepares to go up against a formidable challenger, Al Gross, an independent allied with Democratic Party leaders who has picked up traction in the state.

Though polls from June and July suggested that Sullivan, 55, was comfortably ahead of Gross, recent numbers have indicated that the race may be tightening. A Public Policy Polling survey, conducted in late August, found that Sullivan and Gross — both of whom have raked in millions of dollars in campaign donations — were tied with 43% of the vote.

The race has become increasingly acrimonious in recent weeks as the two candidates have traded barbs in an ongoing series of attack ads. A possible Supreme Court nomination and an in-state mining scandal have added to the high stakes in a contest that is drawing national media attention as well as significant outside spending.

Gross has run a strong campaign, experts say, casting himself as a political outsider in a state that favors them. The 57-year-old Jewish doctor has sought to play up his background as a commercial fisherman and gold prospector. Gross, who was born and raised in Alaska, is also an outsider of another sort: He was the first to have a bar mitzvah in the state’s southeastern portion. (His parents flew in a rabbi for the ceremony.) 

But despite his status as an independent, the playing field is still unfavorable to Gross in historically red Alaska, whose top elected officials are currently all Republicans. 

Gross’s odds further decreased last week when the Alaska Supreme Court rejected an appeal to reprint ballots to include candidates’ party affiliations and not only list how they got elected — meaning Gross, who ran in the Democratic primary, will likely be identified as a Democratic nominee rather than as an independent, which could diminish his prospects at the polls.

Sen. Dan Sullivan speaks to constituents. (Courtesy)

“Gross is fighting well and will likely capture a portion of the vote, but I have yet to see a key indicator that he is likely to win,” Amy Lauren Lovecraft, a professor of political science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, told JI. “Sullivan just hasn’t had any large missteps that would turn his base against him or cause new folks to vote for him rather than his competition.”

Sullivan remains confident that he can win over voters, accusing his opponent of hoodwinking Alaskans by not adhering to any party affiliation as he campaigns for office. 

“He’s telling people he’s an independent, but then he’s caught on a national fundraiser telling people that he’s going to caucus with the Democrats,” Sullivan scoffed, implying that Gross was only running as an independent because it was politically expedient. “His values are to the left.”

In the interview with JI, Sullivan took aim at his opponent’s healthcare proposals — Gross supports a public option for Medicare — but reserved his harshest criticism for Gross’s foreign policy views, particularly on Iran. 

Gross opposed President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement and believes the United States should be brought back into compliance with the deal.

“I saw my opponent said he thought it was bad that we pulled out,” Sullivan said, alluding to a June interview with JI in which Gross expressed his disapproval of Trump’s abandonment of the deal. “I couldn’t disagree more.”

Sullivan declared that one of the primary reasons he decided to run for Senate in 2014 was because he so strongly disapproved of former President Barack Obama’s approach to Iran. 

“The appeasement that was going on with regard to Iran was shocking, it was dangerous, and it was something that I thought was not only bad for America but very bad for our most important ally in the Middle East — and that’s Israel,”  Sullivan told JI. 

Sullivan, who has not travelled to Israel during his time as a senator, touts his record when it comes to the Jewish state. He is, along with the majority of Senate members, a co-sponsor of a proposed bill, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which would give states permission to require that companies pledge not to boycott Israel. Sullivan said he signed on to the bill because he regards the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement as part of a rising tide of antisemitism in the U.S.

“Part of the reason I was one of the original cosponsors of that was to show that, at least from the Congress’s perspective, we don’t find that acceptable,” he said, adding his disagreement that the act would infringe on free-speech rights. “I think it’s important to send a signal from the Congress of the United States that those movements on boycotting Israel are completely unacceptable.”

Dan Sullivan picture
Sullivan and his wife, Julie. (Courtesy)

The first-term senator previously worked as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and as Alaska’s attorney general. Before that, the Ohio-born Republican served as an assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs in the George W. Bush administration. Sullivan, who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2013, is now a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve.

“When I got to the Senate, I didn’t need to be educated on the importance of the U.S.-Israeli relationship,” Sullivan said. “I also certainly didn’t need to be educated on the threat that the terrorist regime in Tehran posed to Israel and posed to the United States.”

His experience in the State Department, where he worked from 2006 to 2009, molded his view of international relations and diplomacy. 

During that time, he told JI, he helped push for Israel’s inclusion in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and traveled the globe as part of an effort to convince America’s allies, including France, Germany, Norway and Japan, to divest from the Iranian oil and gas sector.

Sullivan commended Trump’s actions with regard to Iran, singling out his decision to assassinate Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, whom the senator regarded as a grave threat to the security of American troops in the Middle East. 

“As soon as I got to the Senate, I started giving speeches about this guy Soleimani,” Sullivan said. “I’ve talked to the president numerous times about him. I’ve talked to the senior military. What the United States did with regard to the strike against Soleimani is that we reestablished deterrence,” Sullivan added. “This is really hard.”

Sullivan believes Trump’s tough posture toward Iran has helped the United States in brokering recent agreements between Israel and Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. 

Sullivan on the campaign trail. (Courtesy)

“Most of this, of course, is driven by the recognition that the biggest threat in the region, whether it’s to Israel, or to Saudi Arabia, or to the UAE, is Iran,” Sullivan said. “The Trump administration has been very steady and focused on this in a way that has dramatically shifted the narrative,” he told JI, “in a way that, I think, takes advantage of the changing circumstances on the ground in a really important way.”

Sullivan added his concern that Trump’s diplomatic achievements would be in jeopardy if Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden — who has said he will reenter the Iran nuclear deal — is elected in November. “He would be undermining this progress,” Sullivan said. 

“This is what is at stake with regard to this election,” the senator concluded.

Sullivan can at least remain hopeful that he will hold onto his seat even if Trump isn’t reelected, though he told JI that he is operating on the assumption that he needs to run an aggressive campaign nonetheless. 

“Alaska, from my perspective, is a lot more purple than red,” Sullivan said. 

Ivan Moore, a veteran pollster who runs Alaska Survey Research in Anchorage, agreed with Sullivan’s appraisal of the state’s political makeup. 

“I think he’s still the favorite, but there is the potential for an upset,” said Moore, adding that the state has been trending purple in recent years as young transplants who aren’t interested in working in the energy sector move to the state.

While Sullivan appears somewhat vulnerable this cycle, Moore predicted that he would hold onto his seat. But whether that will be the case six years from now remains to be seen.

“The days when a Republican could run a weak campaign, not really pay much attention to it and still win by 10 or 15 points,” Moore told JI, “are kind of a thing of the past.”

In the heart of the Keystone State, two Pennsylvania politicos battle it out

The Harrisburg, Penn., Jewish community was shook in early August when the Kesher Israel synagogue was vandalized with a pair of swastikas painted on its entryway.

Following the incident, community members and local officials came together to offer their support. Among those who offered their help to the synagogue were Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), who are in the midst of a tight congressional race in the state’s 10th district, which includes Harrisburg.

DePasquale told Jewish Insider that he was angered by the incident, describing his reaction as a “surprise on one hand, but on the other hand not completely shocked.”

“This stuff tragically happens. And sometimes it happens in your own backyard,” DePasquale, who is not Jewish but grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Pittsburgh, said. “We have to do our best to root it out.”

Kesher Israel’s Rabbi Elisha Friedman said that both DePasquale and Perry expressed outrage after the incident.

“That’s exactly the kinds of people that you do want to make sure that they’re very concerned about it and you want them speaking out against it, but on a practical level it was being handled by other government agencies,” he said.

Perry did not respond to JI’s request for comment.

***

DePasquale’s congressional run comes after a long career in state-level elected office. He first ran for the state legislature in 2006 on a platform of governmental reform, alternative energy and education reform — DePasquale and Perry entered the Pennsylvania House of Representatives the same year, and both concluded their terms in 2013.

DePasquale emphasized that he has pushed for government accountability throughout his career — he said he was the first legislator to post his expenses online, and, as auditor general, helped clear a backlog of untested rape kits and improved child protection services.

DePasquale is running on a moderate platform against Perry, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus. The House Freedom Fund PAC has contributed nearly $200,000 to Perry’s campaign.

“My style of leadership [is] needed at [the] Capitol. Being tough and fair on both parties,” DePasquale said. “Certainly I’m a proud Democrat, but… I’ve looked out for what is right, not necessarily just what’s right for the Democratic Party. And I thought our nation could use some of that right now.”

Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) (Perry for Congress)

He drew a stark contrast between himself and Perry, who he described as “an ideologue that is more focused on representing an extreme ideology as opposed to representing the district.”

Many of the issues on which DePasquale is campaigning are personal to him. His family was never able to obtain health insurance for his younger brother while he struggled with — and ultimately died of — muscular dystrophy. 

“At least through all [the Affordable Care Act’s] strengths and weaknesses, that type of situation will not happen for a family member again,” he said. “[Perry] actually voted to take away those protections for people with pre-existing conditions. This fight on healthcare is personal for me.”

The devastation of his brother’s death was compounded by other family tragedies. DePasquale’s father, a Vietnam War veteran, became addicted to painkillers prescribed for gunshot wounds he suffered during the war. To finance his addiction, he sold drugs, eventually landing in prison.

“He actually had to come to my brother’s funeral in shackles,” DePasquale said. “So criminal justice reform, treating drug addiction — these are also high priorities for me.”

***

DePasquale visited Israel on a trip with the Philadelphia Jewish Coalition in 2019, while he was in the state legislature. In Israel, the group met with members of the Knesset, military and security officials, small business owners and environmental leaders, among others, in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The group also visited areas bordering Gaza and the West Bank. 

DePasquale described the trip as “life changing” and “eye opening.”

“I don’t think you can truly appreciate Israel’s challenges until you’re there and you see how close everything is,” he said.

DePasquale added that he also took time away from the group to visit local spots. “Just talking to average everyday folks, whether they were Palestinian or Jewish or whomever else may have been there… the people there desire peace. And they’re exhausted by this and they want it to change,” he said.

DePasquale supports a two-state solution, and believes the United States has a major role to play in brokering such a deal. “The United States needs to make clear not only are we a friend of Israel, but we’ve got to be a fair negotiator among both sides to reestablish credibility,” he said, “so that we can get these sides to the table and try to negotiate.”

DePasquale expressed concern that the U.S.’s credibility as a negotiator has been undermined in recent years by “unilateral actions” that go “well beyond political parties.”

“Our friendship and alliance with Israel is non-negotiable,” he continued. “That doesn’t mean we can’t sit at the table and try to make sure that everyone is negotiating fairly.”

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. (Courtesy)

DePasquale said he works in all aspects of his life — both with his family and in his position as Auditor General — to consistently push back against hate and extremism of all kinds, including antisemitism. 

As a member of Congress, he said he would continue these efforts by reiterating his support for Israel and speaking out against those who express antisemitism.

Perry voted in favor of last year’s House resolution condemning antisemitism, but also criticized it at the time, saying it had been watered down.

Members of the local Jewish community praised DePasquale’s stance on Middle East issues, and said he’s been very open to discussing these issues, as well as other topics, with members of the Jewish community.

“I came away being very impressed with his views and his knowledge of the Middle East and Israel issues,” said Arthur Hoffman — a Harrisburg, Pa., attorney who organized a fundraiser for DePasquale. “He’s willingly spoken and been open to anyone approaching him with concerns.”

Both Hoffman and Harvey Freedenberg, another Harrisburg attorney backing DePasquale, praised him as a centrist and as more representative of the district than Perry.

“He is somebody who is very much committed to representing all the people of the district, as opposed to the incumbent, who I think has a very narrow ideology… [that] I think is really out of step with a growing number of people in the district,” Freedenberg told JI.

Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania, a local PAC, also endorsed DePasquale during the primary. “We know he cares deeply about the Jewish community,” Jill Zipin, the PAC’s chair, told JI. “From our view, DePasquale is a man of integrity, he is a man of character, and he is a man who cares about the constituents of [the 10th district.]”

Eric Morrison, a longtime Perry supporter, praised DePasquale’s work as auditor general, but will be supporting Perry again this cycle.

“I’ve known [DePasquale] for a while as well… I hold him in high esteem,” Morrison told JI. “My concern is when you go to Washington, in the House or Senate, you tend to fall into the majority leader, speaker of the house platform regardless.”

Morrison praised Perry’s stance on Israel issues and said Perry has a “fantastic” relationship with the local Jewish community.

“He is very much involved in listening to AIPAC and we have meetings with him, he always avails himself, he wants to listen, he wants to learn,” he said. “He’s a tremendous advocate and ally for issues pertaining to Israel.”

Elliott Weinstein, a member of AIPAC’s national council, likewise described Perry as strong on Israel issues.

“He’s a friend of all of the things that we support,” Weinstein told JI. “He understands the issues that we bring forward to him.”

***

Recent polling indicates a tight race heading toward election day in the 10th district, which the Cook Political Report rates as a tossup. 

A late August and early September York Dispatch poll of 1,100 voters showed Perry leading DePasquale 44.7% to 38.4%, but 10% of voters said they were undecided. But a poll of 500 voters by GBAO Strategies found the two in a statistical tie, with DePasquale at 50% and Perry at 46%, with a margin of error of 4.4 points.

Monetarily, the candidates are fairly evenly matched — Perry had banked $1.9 million and DePasquale had raised $1.6 million by the end of the June. Both had approximately $990,000 in the bank as of the end of June.

But DePasquale is optimistic.

“We’ve been on the air for three and a half weeks and his first ad went on the air as a negative ad, and we’ve been positive,” he said. “So that lets me know that they know they’re in trouble.”

On Rosh Hashanah call, Trump urges support for his reelection

President Donald Trump implored American Jewish leaders to back his administration’s efforts to bring peace in the Middle East and support his reelection bid during an annual High Holidays conference call with rabbis and Jewish community leaders on Wednesday afternoon. 

“Whatever you can do in terms of November 3rd, it’s going to be very important because if we don’t win, Israel is in big trouble,” Trump told participants on the call, adding that if he loses reelection and Republicans lose control of the Senate, “you are going to lose control of Israel. Israel will never be the same. I don’t know if it can recover from that.” 

Trump noted the previous lack of widespread support among Jewish voters for his campaign, saying he was surprised to have only received 25% of the Jewish vote in 2016. “Here I have a son-in-law and a daughter who are Jewish, I have beautiful grandchildren that are Jewish, I have all of these incredible achievements,”” he said. “I’m amazed that it seems to be almost automatically a Democrat vote. President Obama is the worst president, I would say by far, that Israel has ever had in the United States… And yet the Democrats get 75%.”

“I hope you can do better with that,” Trump continued. “I hope you could explain to people what’s going on. We have to get more support from the Jewish people — for Israel… We have to be able, to hopefully, do well on November 3, and I hope you can get everybody out there. Otherwise, everything that we’ve done, I think, could come undone and we wouldn’t like that.”

On the call, White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner touted the administration’s record. “I can honestly say that there’s been no greater president for the Jewish people in history than Donald Trump,” Kushner said.

Trump ended the call by saying, “We really appreciate you. We love your country also.”

Trump campaign launches Jewish outreach coalition

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign will launch a Jewish outreach team on Wednesday aimed at promoting the Trump administration’s record on Israel and efforts to combat the rise in antisemitism ahead of the November presidential election.

The group, named Jewish Voices for Trump, will be co-chaired by Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, along with Republican Jewish Coalition board member Wayne Berman, former Trump White House aide Boris Epshteyn and Julie Strauss Levin, wife of TV and radio personality Mark Levin. 

Trump reportedly scolded Adelson in a phone call last month for not spending enough on his reelection. Adelson “chose not to come back at Trump,” Politico reported. Axios later reported that Adelson has signaled he is poised to spend big to support the president’s reelection.

“President Trump has fought against antisemitism in America and throughout the world while continuing to ensure the long-term success and security of the Jewish state,” Epshteyn, a senior advisor to the Trump campaign, told Jewish Insider. Citing the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and the recently signed peace accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Epshteyn said, “Trump’s record on Israel and the Middle East can be summed up in four words: promises made, promises kept.” 

A number of prominent Jewish Republicans sit on the group’s advisory board, including former Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, Houston-based GOP donor Fred Zeidman, Chairman of the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad Paul Packer, CEO of Miller Strategies Jeff Miller, Fox Paine & Company CEO Saul Fox, Boca Raton-based investor Marc Goldman, CEO of Hudson Bay Capital Sander Gerber, MizMaa Ventures co-founder Yitz Applbaum, nursing home operator Louis Scheiner, Blackstone’s Eli Miller, Mark Levenson, Dr. Jeffrey Feingold, and Haim Chera, son of the late Stanley Chera, among others.

“Never before have we seen an American president more dedicated to uplifting and protecting the Jewish people at home and around the world,” a Trump campaign official noted about the group’s launch. 

In addition to highlighting the administration’s Israel policy and the measures signed by the president to combat antisemitism, the group will also focus on Trump’s economic and trade policies. 

Epshteyn stressed that Trump’s record stands in stark contrast to the Democratic Party, which he referred to as the “radical hateful Democrats.”

In new ads, Jewish Dems highlight ‘antisemitic’ attacks by GOP candidates in GA, MI

The Jewish Democratic Council of America is set to launch two digital ads aimed at Jewish voters in the states of Michigan and Georgia, targeting Republican senatorial candidates in close races ahead of the November 3 elections.

The ads, which were shared in advance with Jewish Insider, accuse Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) and John James, who is challenging Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), of employing antisemitic tropes in attacks against their rivals. The ads are part of JDCA’s six-figure digital ad spend leading up to Election Day.

The 15-second video targeting James highlights a 2018 campaign ad in which a swastika briefly appears on screen — James later apologized for the symbol’s inclusion in the ad — and comments made by the candidate in June suggesting that the political establishment was “genuflecting” for the Jewish community.

Recent polling in the Michigan Senate race shows James beginning to close the gap with Peters, who is serving his first term in the upper chamber.

A screenshot from the JDCA ad featuring candidate Jon Ossoff.

The ad targeting Perdue, who is fighting a challenge from Jon Ossoff, spotlights a July Facebook ad promoted by the Georgia senator, which included an image of Ossoff with an enlarged nose — a classic antisemitic stereotype. Perdue took down the ad after coming under fire for the image. 

JDCA executive director Halie Soifer told JI that she expected Jewish support for Ossoff and Peters to increase as a result of allegations that the two Republican candidates “have invoked antisemitic language, imagery, and tropes in their campaigns.” 

“There’s a reason these two ads are similar — sadly, Republicans are using antisemitism and other forms of bigotry as part of their political strategy in 2020,” she said. 

In a candidate questionnaire submitted to JI last month, Perdue, who has maintained a slight lead on Ossoff in recent polling, touted his fight against antisemitism as a top priority. “I’ve been a friend of Israel and the Jewish community since I was very young,” the Republican senator averred. “Since I got to the U.S. Senate, I’ve made fighting antisemitism and all forms of bigotry a top priority.”

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