What’s behind 7 early Jewish endorsements in the Democratic primaries

What’s behind 7 early Jewish endorsements in the Democratic primaries

With less than two weeks to first nominating contest in Iowa, congressional backings are beginning to trickle in

Ron Kampeas
People listen as Democratic presidential candidate, former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg makes a campaign stop in a school gymnasium January 16, 2020 in Sioux City, Iowa (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)
People listen as Democratic presidential candidate, former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg makes a campaign stop in a school gymnasium January 16, 2020 in Sioux City, Iowa (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — It’s less than two weeks to the first nominating contest, the Iowa caucus, which means that congressional endorsements of presidential candidates are beginning to trickle in.

A lawmaker backing a candidate this early in the race may reflect a desire to tap into the White House wannabe’s support system or a bid to be considered for a top job in the next administration. If the lawmaker is in a position of leadership or prominence, it’s also a means of shaping the race at a critical juncture. Sometimes it’s simply a function of being from the same state as the candidate.

Nine Jewish lawmakers have made their choices known — that’s not counting the two who are running — Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Michael Bennet of Colorado, whose mother is Jewish but who does not identify as Jewish.

There are 28 Jewish members of the US House of Representatives, 26 Democrats and two Republicans, and nine Jewish Democrats in the Senate with Bennet included.

More endorsements will come as the crowd of 12 Democrats thins in the wake of early nominating contests in Iowa (February 3) New Hampshire (February 11), Nevada (February 22) and South Carolina (February 29), and then the 16 primaries on March 3, Super Tuesday.

(L-R) Democratic presidential hopefuls billionaire-philanthropist Tom Steyer, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar speak during the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Robyn Beck / AFP)

The two Jewish Republicans, Reps. Lee Zeldin of New York and David Kustoff of Tennessee, are like the vast majority of the GOP caucuses solidly in the camp of President Donald Trump, who faces just two long-shot primary contenders.

The seven Jewish Democrats who have endorsed don’t follow such a homogeneous pattern:

Senator Elizabeth Warren

Sen. Warren has garnered the endorsements of Reps. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland., Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois., and Andy Levin, D-Michigan.

It’s a grouping that reflects the subtle division that the Massachusetts senator has forged between herself and Sanders, the other candidate who is a flag-bearer for party progressives. Warren has made peace with the party establishment in a way that Sanders has not: Former president Barack Obama has talked Warren up to donors, while Hillary Clinton, the 2016 nominee, has made clear that she still holds a grudge against Sanders for his challenge.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks during a town hall event at Weeks Middle School on January 19, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

Warren has the endorsement of 13 lawmakers overall, while Sanders has eight.

Schakowsky, Levin and Raskin are each in their way progressive royalty within the establishment. They are also in easy-win districts, meaning their endorsement of Warren is less a matter of mutual back-scratching — they won’t really need her in November — and more a matter of signaling to their followers whom to back at this early stage.

Schakowsky and Levin also are from the Midwest, already perceived as a must-win battleground in November’s contest against Trump, and are useful endorsements ahead of the Iowa caucus. Levin’s endorsement emphasized the economic insecurity that helped drive Trump to the presidency.

“I’m going for the kitchen-table stuff — trade, wages, good jobs, education, health care,” Levin told the Detroit News in July. “I think she’s the whole package and I’m really excited to support her.”

Schakowsky, who was first elected in 1998, wields considerable power as the chief deputy whip in the House and has been a mentor to younger progressives. In her Warren endorsement video posted December 12, Schakowsky comes across very much as a party elder, saying that her closeness to the senator dates back to 2008, when Warren first advocated for a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Schakowsky also reminds viewers that she was among the first to see potential in “a skinny guy from Chicago,” a reference to Obama.

In this file photo taken on November 14, 2019, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (L) and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hold a news conference to introduce legislation to transform public housing as part of their Green New Deal proposal outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP )

In 2018, Levin inherited his Detroit-area district from his father, Sander, who had served since 1983. The younger Levin has attracted attention for his ability to work with Rashida Tlaib, the Palestinian-American congresswoman who has rattled the party establishment with her anti-Israel views and confrontations not only with Republicans but her party’s leadership. (Tlaib has endorsed Sanders.)

Raskin also has a progressive pedigree — his father, Marcus, founded an influential progressive think tank, the Institute for Policy Studies. He has shone since his 2016 election as a constitutional scholar on the House Judiciary Committee and has taken a lead in impeaching Trump.

Of the three Warren endorsements, Raskin’s was the only one to emphasize a specifically Jewish issue: combating anti-Semitism.

“All over the world authoritarianism, anti-Semitism, racism and fascism are on the march and the forces of democracy and freedom and equality are under siege everywhere,” Raskin said. “And our president in his bottomless stupidity and greed finds very good people on both sides in this struggle and repeatedly aligns our country with the despots and dictators, from Putin in Russia and Orban in Hungary and al Sisi in Egypt.” (Viktor Orban, particularly, has come under fire from critics who say he is allowing anti-Semitism to fester in his country.)

Raskin, Schakowsky and Levin also all have been endorsed by the political action committee aligned with J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group.

Joe Biden

The former vice president has garnered the endorsements of Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.

For Luria, the endorsement is at least in part payback — Biden endorsed the freshman in 2018 ahead of a close race in a district that had voted Trump in 2016, and where she has faced some backlash for supporting Trump’s impeachment.

It also sends an early and clear signal to her voters that she remains very much in the center that is the former vice president’s stomping ground. It’s not a coincidence that she announced her endorsement on January 5, the same day as two other freshmen in Pennsylvania districts that Trump won, Conor Lamb and Chrissy Houlahan.

Luria’s endorsement said that Biden is more likely to win “in tough districts like mine,” but also alludes to the foreign policy hawkishness that is popular in her district, which includes the largest Navy base in the world (Luria is a former US Navy commander). She called Biden “battle tested” and predicted he will “restore our standing on the world stage.”

Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during an event at Iowa Central Community College on January 21, 2020 in Fort Dodge, Iowa (Al Drago/Getty Images/AFP)

Feinstein’s Biden endorsement in October set tongues wagging — the prediction had been that she would endorse her old friend, but as a courtesy would wait until Sen. Kamala Harris, the state’s junior senator, had dropped out of the presidential stakes (Harris quit the race in December). Feinstein certainly didn’t need to endorse anyone: She was re-elected easily in 2018 and, at 86, is not likely to seek a Cabinet post.

In her endorsement, Feinstein cited her years working with Biden in the Senate — she was first elected in 1992, two decades after his election — and his support for gun control. The issue has defined Feinstein since she became mayor of San Francisco following the assassination of the incumbent.

Another factor might be their shared belief in a robust American foreign policy, a contrast with the retreat of an American presence overseas that Trump has embodied — and which to a degree Sanders and Warren have embraced.

Biden also has the majority of congressional endorsements overall: 36 in the House and five in the Senate.

Mike Bloomberg

The former NYC mayor earned the endorsement of Rep. Max Rose, D-New York, on January 3.

Like Luria, Rose is a military veteran seeking centrist traction in a district that he first won in 2018, but that Trump won two years earlier. Rose’s district encompasses Staten Island and a patch of Brooklyn. For Rose, though, Bloomberg — who in 2018 gave money to Rose’s Republican opponent — makes more sense than Biden. Bloomberg was a popular, thrice-elected mayor who entered City Hall as a Republican and on some issues is to the right of Biden. Rose has pugnaciously taken on not only Trump but at times his party’s leadership.

Former New York City mayor and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg speaks at a rally on January 15, 2020 in New York City (Scott Heins/Getty Images/AFP)

“I have no problem with people who are independent thinkers and who choose to support people who are at times across the aisle,” Rose told NY1 last month.

Amy Klobuchar’s campaign on Tuesday announced that freshman Rep. Dean Phillips, also of Minnesota, would join other Minnesotans, including USA curling gold medalist coach Phill Drobnick, in organizing “Hotdish House Parties” — apparently a thing in Minnesota — for the US senator. Phillips’ endorsement appears to be in the “she’s from my state” category.

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