headshots of a middle aged white woman and an older white woman on a background of trees
Left: Sara Gideon, speaker of the Maine House of Representatives (Photo/JTA-Ben McCanna-Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images); Right: Sen. Susan Collins in Washington (Photo/JTA-Paul Morigi-Getty Images for National Women's History Museum's Women Making History Awards); Background: Acadia National Park (Photo/JTA-Getty Images)

Sen. Susan Collins is facing a major challenge in Maine. The state’s Jewish voters may be one reason why.

This week, we’re taking a look at an important Senate race in Maine, where 23-year Republican incumbent Susan Collins is facing a serious challenge from Democrat Sara Gideon.

Gideon, who is favored to win the Democratic primary on Tuesday, is drawing support from Maine’s 10,000-15,000 Jews and from national political Jewish organizations — and not just because she is married to a Jewish lawyer.

In a new story, I outline four big reasons why Collins has lost her luster for centrist Jews and why Gideon is getting their support. They range from Collins’ support for President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court picks to Gideon’s uncontroversial views on Israel to the fact that any seat vulnerable to being flipped is getting a full-court press this year.

“She had really good votes, we met with her, we had a good relationship with her, she was pro-choice, but after she chose to support those two Supreme Court nominees, to us it was clear that she was no longer in our corner and that she was no longer pro-choice,” a representative of a Midwestern Jewish political action committee told me about Collins.

The progressive J Street PAC is working to spend $300,000 to support Gideon as part of a massive push to elect Democratic senators.

“Without winning those [seats] you’ve really got a hard path to transforming the Senate — which is one of our top electoral priorities besides defeating Donald Trump by electing Joe Biden — transforming the Senate to make sure that we have a pro-Israel, pro-peace majority,” Ilya Braverman, J Street’s national political director, told me.

No one I spoke to could say whether Gideon is involved in Maine’s small Jewish community. But one Jewish colleague from the Maine House told me her outlook reflects that advanced by progressive Jewish activists: “She brings forward liberal progressive ideas and repairing-the-world ideas.”

Read my whole rundown on Maine’s Senate race here.


In Other News

The long Vindman road: Alexander Vindman, the lieutenant colonel who validated House impeachment allegations that Trump was seeking to leverage aid to Ukraine to extract a promise to investigate Biden, is leaving his beloved Army career in part because he sees no future now that Trump has made him a target. During his testimony Vindman, who is Jewish, addressed his father, who in the 1970s fled  the former Soviet Union: “Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”

Two becomes one: Ten years ago, Peter Beinart scripted the debate for many liberal American Jews when he forcefully defended a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. This week, he announced in an essay in Jewish Currents that he has given up on that vision and is ready to embrace the one-state outcome. My colleague Ben Sales interviewed Beinart about what changed his mind, what reservations he has and what he would hope to see in a “Jewish home” that’s not a Jewish state. You can read the whole interview here.

Pro-Israel = pro-talking it out: An array of pro-Israel groups, from AIPAC to J Street, praised Nita Lowey, the New York Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, for shepherding through tens of millions dollars in funding for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue programs. The Trump administration had slashed funding for the programs to zero. Lowey, who is retiring, is a Jewish pro-Israel stalwart and cajoled Republicans into backing the funding.

No aid for annexation: A minority of progressive Democrats want to reduce or cut altogether defense assistance for Israel if the country goes ahead with annexation of parts of the West Bank. Those in the party’s center and on the right support speaking out against annexation, but do not want to touch funding. Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland is proposing a middle ground: Leave the amount of funding alone, but ban its use for annexation. AIPAC is opposed, J Street is in favor.

A Jewish doctor in the Kentucky Senate: Meet Karen Berg, a Democrat and doctor who will be the only Jewish member of the state Legislature.


Worth A Look

You may know Bethany Mandel from her May “Grandma Killer” Twitter thread challenging the nationwide shutdown meant to stop the coronavirus from spreading. But she told me she doesn’t relish the fight as much as she appears to: “Everything now has become politicized, every single thing, and it sucks,” she said. Read my new profile of Mandel to understand how the homeschooling mother of four became a rising star in the world of conservative political thought. (Just don’t expect to find out whether her 2016 #NeverTrump position still stands.)

Bethany Mandel at her home in a suburb of Washington, D.C., May 25, 2020. (Photo/JTA- illustration by Grace Yagel; Ron Kampeas)
Bethany Mandel at her home in a suburb of Washington, D.C., May 25, 2020. (Photo/JTA- illustration by Grace Yagel; Ron Kampeas)

Tweet So Sweet

Donald Trump’s niece, Mary Trump, is publishing her tell-all about the family next week, and excerpts have already appeared. She says her uncle paid someone named Joe Shapiro to take his SATs. Speculation has focused on a classmate of Trump’s at the Wharton School who died in 1999, but his widow, tennis ace Pam Shriver, says no way. Another Joe Shapiro, an investigative reporter at National Public Radio, is having fun with it.

The Tell is a weekly roundup of the latest Jewish political news from Ron Kampeas, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Washington bureau chief. Connect with him on Twitter at @kampeas or suggest a story to him by emailing thetell@jta.org.

Ron Kampeas

JTA D.C. bureau chief

JTA

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