Jewish vote is critical in race to replace Cardin

Maryland Votes 2006


The candidates for Congress who attended an Israel solidarity rally in Baltimore last month could only hope for the kind of reception received by the man they are vying to replace, U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin.

The heavily Jewish crowd roared in approval as Clair Zamoiski Segal, president of the Baltimore Jewish Council, introduced the Baltimore County Democrat as a person "at the forefront of efforts to support and defend Israel."

Six out of eight Democratic candidates in the 3rd Congressional District race to succeed Cardin, who is running for the U.S. Senate, stood in the audience while the congressman appeared at the podium. They donned "Baltimore Stands with Israel" pins, showing support for a crucial constituency in a district that includes an estimated 80 percent of the Baltimore area's Jewish population.

The region's Jewish community has a long history of high voter turnout, political organization and copious campaign donations, political observers say, making it especially attractive to candidates in search of support. For two decades, those voters faithfully sent one of their own - Cardin - to Capitol Hill.

Now that Cardin is giving up his seat, the support of this influential voting bloc is up for grabs, at a time when concern for Israel is peaking during the conflict with the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon.

But with nearly all the candidates professing strong support of Israel and promoting their own ties to the Jewish community, political support remains divided, making a competitive race with no clear front-runner all the blurrier.

"The Jewish community has always been the ground zero of that district," said Thomas F. Schaller, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "It plays a very big role in a Democratic primary because these are high-turnout voters.

"Here, there are too many candidates that can stake some kind of legitimate claim to that vote or some kind of solidarity appeal."

As I. William Chase, an attorney and Owings Mills resident active in political circles, put it, "They're all going to beat each other up in Pikesville.

"There is nobody that Cardin ordained to be his replacement," Chase said. "Right now, no one has an edge."

The candidates think otherwise. The three Democratic primary contenders who have raised the most money can stake claim to contributions and support from influential Jewish donors.

State Sen. Paula C. Hollinger of Pikesville, who attends a Conservative synagogue, has long represented a district in the heart of Baltimore County's Jewish community. Her campaign likes to note that she is the only one with a voter base - one it describes as middle-class, well-educated, Jewish and female.

Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, former health commissioner in Baltimore, said he practices Reform Judaism and has long-standing ties to the Jewish community.

And John P. Sarbanes, a Greek-American whose wife is Jewish and whose family belongs to the Bolton Street Synagogue in Baltimore, has also garnered support in the community. He is also a board member of the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies.

All were at the rally, as were three other Democratic candidates: former WMAR-TV reporter Andy Barth, who is Jewish; Oz Bengur, a businessman and former treasurer of the state Democratic Party; and Kevin O'Keeffe, a former high-level aide in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County.

Then there is Dr. Gary Applebaum, who has raised more money than the seven other Republican candidates and received campaign contributions from some heavyweight Jewish donors who are Democrats. Applebaum is a Conservative Jew and board member of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

Applebaum, of Owings Mills, is hoping Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s support in the Jewish community and the GOP's strong pro-Israel stance will translate into votes for him if he makes it to the general election.

Ehrlich carried the 3rd District by 13 percentage points in his 2002 gubernatorial win, said John Randall of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Republicans hope that Orthodox Jews, who are numerous in the district, are falling their way.

"Obviously, the Orthodox Jewish community and those who go to the synagogue often are kind of the same as someone who goes to church, and they tend to be more conservative and Republican," Randall said.

Applebaum said he sees some Jewish donors supporting him and Democratic candidates. "I think after the primary, people will have to decide," he said.

Many major Jewish donors are giving to several candidates from both parties, according to political observers and campaign finance records.

Others are staying out of the primary or working in the shadows.

Hanan "Bean" Sibel, a former wholesale food broker who is a major political fundraiser, said he is waiting for the Sept. 12 primary to be over with.

"There are a lot of people in there, a lot of quality people I've known for a long time," said Sibel. "I will support the Democratic candidate."

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