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In this edition: The AIPAC scattergun, previews of today’s big primaries, and the VP audition in Man͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
thunderstorms Annapolis
thunderstorms Washington, D.C.
cloudy New York City
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May 14, 2024


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David Weigel

Have Democrats cracked the code on fending off pro-Israel groups?

Alex Wong/Getty Images


Maryland Democrats don’t typically expect checks from Larry Mizel. The wealthy, Denver-based octogenarian who co-founded the Simon Wiesenthal Center raised money for Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and served on the board of the Republican Jewish Coalition. Last year he gave $100,000 to Kevin McCarthy’s campaign PAC; after House Republicans yanked the speaker’s gavel from McCarthy, Mizel gave $100,000 to Mike Johnson.

But last month, Mizel gave the maximum donation of $3,300 to Sarah Elfreth, a Maryland state senator running for the state’s 3rd Congressional District. He was joined by 72 other donors, only one from Maryland, who gave to Elfreth after giving to other candidates supported by the United Democracy Project, the super PAC created by the pro-Israel group AIPAC — which also plowed more than $4.2 million into TV ads and field organizing in the same race.

That massively boosted Elfreth, one of 21 Democrats running for a safely blue seat between D.C. and Baltimore. And it put UDP on a collision course with Harry Dunn, a Nancy Pelosi-endorsed former Capitol Police officer known for his heroism on January 6.

But Dunn wasn’t defenseless: In addition to raising $4.5 million for his own campaign, he had a now-familiar playbook that Democrats have used in other campaigns where pro-Israel groups have played a role. Soon he was up with TV ads asking why “Trump donors” want Elfreth to win.

“Any candidate who receives this support refuses to condemn their meddling in this race and essentially accepts the endorsement of an organization that has backed over 100 candidates and members of Congress who incited the rioters I fought on January 6th and tried to overthrow our democracy,” Dunn told Semafor.

Dunn’s opponent — who cannot coordinate anything with the PAC — has downplayed the issue while welcoming the support.

“If someone who’s inclined to give to the other side wants to give to Sarah, they know what they’re getting — someone who’s endorsed by teachers and will fight for campaign finance reform,” said Patrick Murray, a spokesman for Elfreth.


Pro-Israel donors and campaign groups have gone after a fairly wide range of Democrats this cycle. Some, like Reps. Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman, have well-funded opponents and are left-wing stalwarts. Others, like Dave Min in California, didn’t have an obviously confrontational take on Israel or affinity towards its critics. And Dunn isn’t facing direct attacks from pro-Israel groups, he’s merely in the way of a preferred candidate who enjoys their support.

But the nature of the groups involved have allowed them to mount a common defense: In race after race, candidates have attacked AIPAC and its allies as partisan, pro-Trump actors who don’t have Democrats’ best interests at heart.

Since 2022, when UDP first started spending to beat left-wing Democrats in primaries, progressives have gone straight after AIPAC’s bipartisan brand to neutralize its attacks. By continuing to give to Republicans and bundling cash from GOP donors, they argued, the pro-Israel juggernaut was backing “insurrectionists.” The goal: Discredit UDP before voters started seeing its name on mailers or hearing it in ads.

That’s how Bowman, generally seen as the House Democrat most at risk in his primary, has approached his race. On Monday night, facing Westchester County Executive George Latimer in their first televised debate, Bowman described AIPAC as a right-wing pressure group that wanted its puppet in a safe Democratic seat.

“My opponent is in the pocket and bought and paid for by AIPAC — the largest recipient of PAC money in the country,” Bowman said. “AIPAC is funded by the same Republicans who supported insurrectionists, the same Republicans who are against voting rights, who are against reproductive rights.”

Latimer called AIPAC a group working in “one particular policy area” and noted that most House Democrats were fine with it. But UDP’s long reach has become a paradox, a boon wrapped in a problem, for Democrats who weren’t talking about Israel at all.

In Oregon, where Susheela Jayapal — sister of progressive leader Rep. Pramila Jayapal — entered the race for a safe blue seat as the heavy favorite, progressives have blamed UDP for a sudden burst of TV advertising from two PACs, the science-focused 314 Action and the brand new Voters for Responsive Government. The ads have benefited state Rep. Maxine Dexter, who was encouraged to run by pro-Israel activists — and who’s received support from Mizel and other regular AIPAC donors in the race’s final stretch. (UDP would not comment on any involvement in the race.)

“Based on her own FEC reports, we know without a doubt that anti-choice Republican donors are funding Maxine,” said Andrea Cervone, Jayapal’s campaign manager. “It’s a choice to say you’ll fight for LGBTQ+ freedoms and progressive freedoms, then take that money.”

Dexter has bemoaned the groups’ involvement on her behalf. “I’m not condoning this,” she said in a May 3 candidate forum, after Jayapal and another candidate said that she could urge the PACs to disclose their donors. “My integrity is frankly being questioned here.”

But like Elfreth, Dexter described the help from unexpected donors as a wash; giving her money isn’t enough to change her mind. “I have stood firm with people who’ve supported me, and against people who’ve supported me,” she said as the forum wrapped up.

​​Progressives would like to win these races; since the ad buys began, Jayapal has called for conditions on further aid to Israel, and Dexter hasn’t. But the queasiness that their opponents feel about benefiting from this money isn’t bad, either. Dozens of progressive groups teamed up last month to form Reject AIPAC, which coordinated their messaging (but not their money) behind an effort to make the group’s political work unpopular with Democratic voters. Usamah Andrabi, the coalition’s spokesman, said that the intervention in Maryland, especially, was helping.

“When the super PAC that endorsed 109 insurrectionists starts spending money against a Capitol Police officer, people realize this is a front for billionaires to spend in Democratic primaries,” he said.


“We have a strong and successful track record of supporting pro-Israel candidates from both parties,” said AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann. “In fact, we are the largest PAC contributor to Democratic candidates.”

Patrick Dorton, the spokesman for UDP, had the same response: AIPAC endorsed “the entire Democratic leadership team” in 2022, and was “proud to support pro-Israel progressives.” He added that in Maryland’s 3rd District, while some candidates were calling for a ceasefire — including John Morse, a labor lawyer endorsed by Bernie Sanders — the endorsement was all about Elfreth. “She’s one of the most effective legislators in Maryland’s history,” Dorton said. “We obviously were concerned about some anti-Israel candidates in that race, but not Dunn.”

Plus, UDP was spending against Republicans, too. Last week, it helped defeat ex-Indiana Rep. John Hostettler, stopping his comeback bid and highlighting his criticism of Israel; ahead of Kentucky’s March 20 primary, it was running ads across the commonwealth attacking conservative foreign aid critic Rep. Thomas Massie. The goal was not to beat him, said Dorton, but to make sure that “every voter in Kentucky knows how atrocious” Massie was on Israel.


  • In the Intercept, Ryan Grim sifted through the last-minute spending in Oregon, noting that the PAC created to run negative ads on Jayapal was founded a day after a key deadline; its donors “won’t be documented in campaign finance reports until it’s too late,” the day of the all-mail primary, after most votes are cast.
  • In Jewish Insider, Mark Rod looked at how Dunn was handling the UDP intervention, and how Elfreth took a “largely pro-Israel stance, but is not fully hewing to AIPAC’s positions on the war in the Middle East.”
State of Play

West Virginia. The race to replace Sen. Joe Manchin starts tonight, as Gov. Jim Justice battles Rep. Alex Mooney for the GOP nomination. Early Democrats’ hopes for a messy primary were dashed in October, when Trump endorsed Justice; Mooney, who presented himself as the true conservative alternative, has trailed badly in public polls, and nearly as badly in the private polls released by his campaign. Manchin endorsed Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott last month, but he has competition from progressive organizer Zach Shrewsbury and party-switching ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, who has run strange TV ads but no real ground campaign.

Justice has endorsed Moore Capito, the son of Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, to replace him in Charleston. That’s been a more competitive race, and a nastier one, with Attorney Gen. Patrick Morissey scrapping on-air with Kia dealership owner Chris Miller over which candidate is more anti-trans. (Secretary of State Mac Warner, the fourth major candidate, stayed out of it.)

Capito’s cousin Riley Moore is running in Mooney’s 2nd Congressional District, a heavy favorite after $1 million of supportive PAC spending. And Miller’s mother, Rep. Carol Miller, faces a challenge from Derrick Evans, who resigned his state legislative seat after joining the Jan. 6 insurrection. Polls close at 7 p.m. Eastern Time.

Maryland. Rep. David Trone has massively out-spent Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks to seek the Democrats’ US Senate nomination; Alsobrooks, endorsed by Gov. Wes Moore and most of the state’s congressional delegation, went on the air late and closed their polling gap. Both parties expect Gov. Larry Hogan to win the GOP’s Senate nomination, and Democrats want to see how much of a protest vote Hogan gets from Republicans frustrated by his public criticism of Trump.

Trone’s Senate bid opened up his 6th Congressional District, the only competitive one in the state: Thirteen Democrats and seven Republicans are running to replace him. Self-funding Democrats have held this seat since the party re-drew it to be better for them in 2012, and April McClain Delaney is trying to keep that tradition going; her husband John spent $3.6 million of their wealth in his three successful campaigns here, and McClain Delaney has spent $1 million, an advantage over Hagerstown Mayor Takesha Martinez and state Del. Joe Vogel. Neil Parrott, who lost the 2022 race to Trone, is running again; Dan Cox, who beat Hogan’s endorsed successor for the GOP gubernatorial nomination that year, is making a comeback bid.

Democrats expect to hold the 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts easily, no matter who wins the primaries. Baltimore County Executive John “Johnny O” Olszewski Jr. has been the favorite in the 2nd all year, and you just read about the battle for the 3rd — a fight between Harry Dunn and Sarah Elfreth with an unwelcome UDP intervention. Polls close everywhere at 8 p.m. Eastern Time.

Nebraska. There’ll be one more test today of whether the Republican base wants the party to move right, as Rep. Don Bacon faces challenger Dan Frei. Bacon’s never had a problem holding the GOP nomination in the swingy 2nd Congressional District, carried by Biden in 2020, but Frei nearly won the primary here 10 years ago, and has gone after Bacon for supporting last month’s Ukraine funding package. Polls close across the state at 9 p.m. Eastern Time, across both time zones.

Alaska. The race for mayor of Anchorage isn’t partisan, but incumbent Dave Bronson has governed as a conservative and hit some snags — an aborted plan to end water fluoridation, a failed proposal to relocate the city’s homeless population to California. Democrat Suzanne LaFrance has out-raised and out-polled him, and a Bronson win would be an upset. Polls close at midnight Eastern.

Mark Chang for Maryland/YouTube

Morrisey 2024, “Conservative. Fighter. Winner.” Trump stayed out of the race to succeed Jim Justice. He didn’t endorse Attorney Gen. Morrisey, who he’d campaigned for when he challenged Manchin. But he didn’t endorse anyone else, and Morrisey uses footage from that 2018 rally to close out his race as the most Trump-like, Trump-adjacent Republican candidate. His other character witnesses, after a campaign full of attacks on conservative cred and alleged fondness for LGBT rights — a sheriff, a veteran, a mom of 4, and the son of a coal miner.

Mark Chang for Maryland, “Chang, Mark Chang.” How does any Democrat get attention in a 21-way field, with AIPAC’s PAC pouring in money at one end and Harry Dunn pouring his into the other? Chang, a state delegate who raised less than $130,000 for his campaign, gambled with this joke spot, which eschews specific issues he’s worked on for an imitation of the James Bond intro sequence. “License to legislate,” says a narrator, as Chang, lacking a Walther PPK, clicks a pen.

George Latimer for Congress, “Together.” Rep. Jamaal Bowman enters his June primary with more vulnerabilities than other House progressives with the same voting record. Latimer’s spot goes after one of them — old blog posts, discovered by The Daily Beast, which included poems that dabble in 9/11 conspiracy theories. That and his vote against the bipartisan infrastructure bill — a negotiating tactic which has been used against “squad” members ever since — make up most of this attack ad.


The Times’s polling of six swing states found the president running well behind his 2020 numbers, and doing worse in one state — Nevada — than any Democratic nominee since Mike Dukakis. The same poll found Sen. Jacky Rosen in a tie with the likely GOP nominee. Some of the anti-Biden vote is specific to him, and doesn’t translate into support for Republicans down-ballot. In the states with Senate races this year, thirty percent of voters under 30 support Trump, 26% support Biden, and 18% support Kennedy. But 50% of those voters say they’re inclined to support a Democratic candidate for Senate, a 21-point advantage over the GOP. In 2022, Democrats saw a similar gap between their own performance and Biden’s poll numbers, which made them confident about beating a Trump-led GOP.

When the House passed military funding packages for Israel and Ukraine last month, bipartisan supermajorities were on board. The right flank of the House GOP caucus was humbled. And voters weren’t that impressed. Other polling has found more support for war funding, but the skepticism of new aid to both countries has been consistent, with Democrats less likely to back Israel funds and Republicans less likely to back it for Ukraine.

On the Trail
Mark Peterson/Pool via REUTERS

White House. At least two of the Republicans being considered as Donald Trump’s running mate headed to Manhattan to support him at his trial this week — Ohio Sen. JD Vance on Monday, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum on Tuesday. Florida Rep. Byron Donalds and Vivek Ramaswamy, also referenced in some veep lists, joined the party, stepping up to microphones to attack the case.

They were joined by House Speaker Mike Johnson, who came separately and didn’t take questions from reporters, denouncing former Trump fixer Michael Cohen as “a man who is clearly on a mission for personal revenge.” Burgum denounced the trial as a “scam” and clear “election interference,” while Vance called the prosecutors “political operative[s].” As first reported by Semafor’s Shelby Talcott, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, also being considered for the ticket, is looking at his own trip to support Trump.

  • seven days until primaries in Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky and Oregon
  • 14 days until runoffs in Texas
  • 62 days until the Republican National Convention
  • 97 days until the Democratic National Convention
  • 175 days until the 2024 presidential election