The general election is less than a week away, but the intensity of this election cycle is not letting up one iota. Don’t forget to go online to learn about the candidates running to represent your interests and any issues on the ballot for referendum. Visit your state or DC’s department of elections website for a list of candidates and referendums, and go to vote411.org to find your polling place and answers to frequently-asked questions about voting.
There are fascinating races at every level, and these are just a few with issues at the heart of the Jewish community of Maryland, DC, and Northern Virginia.
Three’s a Crowd:
Montgomery County Executive
Following a crowded six-way Democratic primary race for Montgomery County Executive in June, County Councilmember Marc Elrich beat businessman David Blair by a margin of just 79 votes (later revised to 77 in a recount) in a race where nearly 130,000 ballots were cast. In Montgomery County, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans three to one, Republican nominee Robin Ficker (who has run for elected office 20 times during his career) had little chance in the general election.
Then on July 2, Democratic County Councilmember Nancy Floreen announced she would run against Elrich as an Independent in the general election. Floreen, an attorney who joined the council in 2002, said she was running to give voters a meaningful choice between the two political extremes.
Floreen was endorsed by advocacy organization Greater Greater Washington and media outlets such as the Washington Post and the Washington Jewish Week; but by running as an Independent, Floreen has foregone endorsements from most Democratic officials in the region. Elrich’s website lists 64 endorsements from Democratic politicians (including departing County Executive Ike Leggett), but Floreen’s website lists just one (Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow).
At an Oct. 8 candidate forum hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC), Floreen and Elrich voiced similar views on important issues for the Jewish community. They both support county-funded services — such as a subsidized lunch program — for low-income students in private school. Both like the idea of busing for private school students and free universal Pre-K, but don’t plan to raise taxes to pay for it. On Israel, both said they want more economic partnerships between Israeli and Montgomery County businesses.
According to candidate filings, Floreen has raised about $828,000 since the primary election, Elrich’s campaign has raised about $505,000, and Ficker has raised about $250,000. Since no public polls have been conducted on the county executive race, it could be anyone’s game.
A Classic Battle: Maryland’s 6th Congressional District
In Maryland’s 6th Congressional District — which includes Potomac, Gaithersburg, Frederick, and the entire Maryland panhandle — Democrat David Trone will face Republican Amie Hoeber. They are running to replace Rep. John Delaney (D), who is stepping down to run for president in 2020.
Hoeber served as Deputy Under Secretary of the Army under President Reagan before founding a homeland security consulting firm in 1992. At an Oct. 23 candidate forum hosted by the JCRC, Hoeber said she supports Israel’s right to defend itself and was on the team that created Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.
Trone is founder of Total Wine & More, an alcohol retailer operating in 22 states. Thanks to his personal wealth, Trone has invested nearly $16 million of his own money into his campaign.
“We’re not taking PAC money, we’re not taking lobbyist money because that’s the wrong thing to do,” he said at the recent JCRC candidate forum. On Israel, he said the U.S. must ensure the Israel Defense Forces maintains a technological edge over rivals in the region and that while it is sometimes OK to be critical of Israel, “BDS is BS.”
Ultimately, the main differences between Trone and Hoeber revolve around classic issues Republicans and Democrats disagree on: healthcare, immigration, and tax cuts. This is probably to Trone’s advantage in a district where there are 65,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, and in an election where the Trone campaign has raised over $15 million more than the Hoeber campaign.
Democrat vs. Blue-State Republican: Governor of Maryland
In a heavily blue state, Republican incumbent Larry Hogan holds a 54.5-35.8 lead over Democratic challenger Ben Jealous, according to polls aggregated by RealClearPolitics.
There are many ingredients to Hogan’s popularity: his moderate stance on social issues, the strong economy, his tax and fee cuts, his increases to education spending, and his affable demeanor. Several high-level Democrats, such as Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and Comptroller Peter Franchot, have even declined to endorse Hogan’s Democratic challenger.
Hogan has already taken a strong stance against the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement with his executive order barring businesses that support BDS from receiving state contracts. Jealous said he would keep the executive order in place, provided it doesn’t run afoul of the First Amendment. On day school tuition affordability, Hogan has consistently included funding for private school scholarships in his state budgets ($7 million was available this year). By contrast, Jealous said he would phase out the scholarship program, although he said current recipients would continue receiving scholarships until they finish school.
Ben Jealous is more aligned with progressive policies such as single-payer health care and legalizing recreational marijuana (Hogan supports only medical marijuana), but overall, he has struggled to paint Hogan as a Republican at odds with Maryland voters. Hogan also has a large fundraising lead. Since May 16, Jealous raised about $2.1 million and had $222,000 on hand as of Oct. 21. By contrast, Hogan raised about $5 million during the same period and had $3.2 million to spend during the last two weeks of the campaign.
While most commentators consider Hogan a shoe-in, the outcomes of state legislature races could increase his power if he wins a second term. While the Democrats currently hold veto-proof majorities in the House of Delegates and State Senate, if Republicans can flip six seats in the house and five in the Senate then Hogan could work with the legislature to stop any Democrat-supported measure.
Old Tensions Gain New Attention: DC Councilmember At-Large
Unlike the ward-specific seats on the DC Council, the election for councilmember at-large is a city-wide election. In what the Washington Post’s Fenit Nirappil recently called “an unprecedented attempt by the mayor to oust an incumbent lawmaker,” Mayor Muriel Bowser has thrown her moral and financial support behind the challenger for councilmember at-large rather than incumbent Elissa Silverman (I - Ward 8).
The challenger, Dionne Reeder, is a black businesswoman who lives in Columbia Heights and opened a restaurant in Ward 8. “Unlike most of us, she crosses a bridge every day to go from Northwest to Southeast and that experience has taught her how to bring people together from across eight wards of Washington, D.C.,” Bowser said at an Oct. 14 rally.
Silverman, who previously worked as a journalist and policy analyst, is Jewish, white, and lives in Capitol Hill. Besides butting heads with the mayor over various policy issues, Silverman was also involved in the saga surrounding Councilmember Trayon White earlier this year.
At an April 26 rally to defend White after he referenced an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory at a council meeting (for which he later apologized), Mid-Atlantic representative for the Nation of Islam Abdul Khadir Muhammad took the stage to spout anti-Semitic rhetoric and called Silverman a “fake Jew.” The person who convened the rally — and held the megaphone for Muhammad — was Joshua Lopez, a consultant in the mayor’s 2014 campaign and a mayoral appointee to the board of the public housing authority. While Lopez told the Washington Post Muhammad wasn’t an invited speaker and he avoided interrupting him to prevent a physical altercation, Silverman called for the mayor to dismiss Lopez from his city position. (Lopez ultimately resigned.)
More recently, tensions ran high between Silverman and a DC church leader at an Oct. 9 breakfast meeting intended to build rapport among DC councilmembers and local faith leaders, according to the Washington City Paper. Rev. Willie Wilson of Union Temple Baptist Church has let Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan preach at his house of worship, and Silverman told the paper Rev. Wilson asked why the council was focused on anti-Semitism instead of “anti-blackism.”
Reeder, who told the paper Rev. Wilson is “someone she holds dear and who she at times has turned to for advice,” said she is for continuing conversation between councilmembers and faith leaders. Silverman, on the other hand, suggested bringing in trained experts such as the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) to facilitate discussions and trainings on implicit bias and institutional racism.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who convened the meeting, said he anticipates scheduling another in the next several months, with the rationale that “Sometimes it’s better to have the person who is making the objectionable comments in the room, to confront him or her as opposed to excluding people.”
A House in the Balance: Virginia’s 10th Congressional District
In Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, which covers large swaths of Fairfax and Loudoun counties, Republican incumbent Barbara Comstock is fending off a challenge from Democratic nominee Jennifer Wexton.
Since her election to Congress in 2014, Comstock has consistently toed the party line. According to poll analysis website FiveThirtyEight, Comstock has voted in accordance with President Trump’s priorities 97.8 percent of the time. Wexton has used this against her in campaigning, telling WTOP: “People in this district do not agree with Donald Trump’s agenda, but Barbara Comstock does.”
Wexton, herself an attorney and a Virginia state senator, has focused her campaign on health care and the Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare. Comstock voted to repeal Obamacare in 2017 but now says she instead supports a “piece-by-piece, change and reform” approach to Obamacare. On preventing gun violence, Wexton supports universal background checks for gun purchases, an assault weapon ban, and opposes concealed-carry permits; Comstock prefers funding for school safety and mental health programs for students.
Both candidates support Israel, but they disagree on Iran and anti-BDS legislation. Whereas Comstock praised President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, Wexton said the deal, while flawed, has prevented Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. On BDS, Comstock was among 292 House members to co-sponsor legislation sanctioning individuals and companies who support BDS. By contrast, Wexton said that while she opposes the BDS movement, it would violate the First Amendment to punish people for their political views.
A new Washington Post survey found Wexton has a commanding 56-43 lead. If Wexton wins, this race could contribute to Democrats retaking the House of Representatives in November.
By Gabe Aaronson