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Israel and the Maryland Senate Race

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) reached out to Jewish voters in Maryland's most populous jurisdiction yesterday, highlighting his support for Israel and opposition to the war in Iraq as the race for Maryland's open U.S. Senate seat entered its final two weeks.

Cardin, who is Jewish, wore a yarmulke as he addressed a mostly receptive audience at the B'nai Israel congregation in Rockville. Throughout the campaign, Cardin has tried to highlight his willingness to cross party lines in Congress, and yesterday he discussed his support of Israel as one example of his bipartisanship.

"We have forged in Congress, Democrats and Republicans, to support Israel -- as it should be," Cardin said.
He said the United States is a "nation of faith. We believe in faith. We need to protect that."

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the Republican nominee for Senate, did not attend the forum. On his Web site, he voices support Israel and pledges to strengthen "diplomatic, defense, and economic ties between our two nations."

Independent candidate Kevin Zeese has made foreign policy in the Middle East a key issue in his longshot bid for the Senate. For months, Zeese has attacked Cardin for his support for Israel for being "an ardent supporter of Israel no matter what they do."

"Rather than allying with the peace movement in the Jewish community, Cardin allies with the hawks and is one of the top recipients of Israeli lobby money," Zeese said.

Roughly three-quarters of Maryland's 180,000 Jewish voters tend to vote Democratic, and many of the state's Jewish residents live in Montgomery County.

At the Rockville forum, some in the audience expressed concern that the Democratic Party wavers in its support for Israel. "The leadership of both parties have been there for Israel, and that should never be made into a political issue," Cardin responded.

Cardin said the war in Iraq has diverted the United States' attention and resources away from other problems in Israel and the rest of the Middle East.

"I think Iraq has made it more difficult for Israel. The United States is so focused on Iraq and moving in the wrong direction," Cardin said. He later called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
"President Bush has isolated America's influence internationally and that is not good for Israel," he added.

Cardin appeared to have strong support among Jewish voters at yesterday's forum. Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, the Democratic nominee for governor, and Kristen Cox, Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s running mate, also spoke at the forum.

Sharon Kass, 51, a Jewish activist from Silver Spring, said she would definitely vote for Cardin. "Cardin's assets are obvious, his experience and his integrity," Kass said.

But she said she is till undecided in the gubernatorial race, even after hearing O'Malley and Cox speak. "I thought O'Malley was much stronger in his presentation, but, you know, the next two weeks will tell more," Kass said. "Ehrlich's got his strengths, too ..... I'd say Ehrlich is not bad at all."

-- Philip Rucker

By Phyllis Jordan  |  October 23, 2006; 11:54 AM ET
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