AIPAC-affiliated PAC backs Maryland primary candidate with US$4 million

AIPAC-affiliated PAC backs Maryland primary candidate with US$4 million
Tuesday's Democratic primary in Maryland is seeing major national attention, with a PAC affiliated with AIPAC backing a candidate with over US$4 million.
3 min read
Washington, DC
14 May, 2024
A US congressional primary in Maryland is being closely watched. [Brooke Anderson/TNA]

Tuesday's Democratic primary in Maryland is receiving major national attention, with a political action committee affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee contributing over US$4 million to its preferred candidate.

One of the top two candidates, Harry Dunn, a former capitol police officer who became a national figure after testifying following the 6 January 2021 attack, has been endorsed by Nancy Pelosi and other prominent members of Congress, the Congressional Progressive Caucus and J Street. 

The other leading candidate, Sarah Elfreth, a member of the Maryland Senate, appears to have most of her endorsements from state officials. She has received over US$4 million in donations from the United Democracy Project.

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The winner of the race in Maryland's third congressional district, home to a diverse constituency in a deep-blue area southeast of Baltimore, is all but certain to determine the race's outcome in the general election. Multiple polls show the Dunn and Elfreth neck and neck.

"It's a safe Democratic seat," J. Miles Coleman, associate editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told The New Arab. "One reason so much money is being invested in the primary is that whoever wins the primary will be the next member from the district. This is going to be a decisive election."

Both leading candidates have described themselves as supporters of Israel, though there appears to be a contrast in their messaging on Gaza. 

In a voters' guide by a local newspaper, The Baltimore Banner, asking how they would promote peace in Gaza, Elfreth began her response by saying, "Long-term peace in the region is essential to the stability of the entire world. I travelled to Israel for the first time last summer and witnessed a vibrant democracy facing existential threats."

Dunn began his response by focusing on civilian lives, saying, "The humanitarian situation in Gaza is horrifying, and more needs to be done to protect innocent lives there." 

However, he said he supports efforts by the US administration to reduce civilian casualties, falling far short of a ceasefire for which many progressives have been advocating. He said, "I am glad President Biden is working to deliver increased humanitarian assistance and has advocated for an approach that reduces unnecessary civilian casualties, and I support that approach." 

While Dunn has faced criticism for being a national figure (though he is originally from Maryland), Elfreth is seeing pushback for her funding by an AIPAC-affiliated PAC, which, according to filings by the Federal Election Commission, is by far her biggest donor.

"I assume it's because they think she's better on their issues. It's not a good look," Connor Farrell, CEO and founder of Left Rising, told TNA on the eve of this closely watched election. 

Though AIPAC has described itself as bipartisan, most of its largest donors lean conservative or are linked with the Republican Party. For the 2020 election, the Israel lobby group endorsed around 100 Republican candidates who denied the presidential election results. The violence that ensued at the Capitol national divisions also highlighted the fragility of democracy.

"It's notable that someone like him would want to run for Congress," said Coleman. "He was protecting the Capitol day. Now, he could be serving in it."