In an abrupt course reversal, Democratic Jewish Outreach of Pennsylvania endorsed Scott Wallace, the Democratic nominee in the 1st Congressional District, on Monday, nearly a month after saying it wouldn’t do so.
Wallace was criticized by many in the Jewish community after news broke that he was the co-chair of a family-run fund that endorsed organizations supportive of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Wallace stepped down from the Wallace Global Fund before officially beginning his campaign, but he was scrutinized by DJOP for what one official of the political organization referred to as apparent carelessness.
But DJOP founder Jill Zipin said Monday it’s apparent Wallace has educated himself on Israel and BDS. She said DJOP hadn’t been in contact with Wallace’s campaign since their initial meeting in late May, but after reading his position papers, DJOP believes Wallace now more closely aligns with its values.
“It is clear he has become educated on these ever-important issues in the Jewish community and that is all we can ask of a candidate — to grow and become educated on issues of importance,” Zipin said.
“I’m thrilled to receive the endorsement of the Democratic Jewish Outreach of Pennsylvania,” Wallace wrote in a statement. “In Congress, I will serve as a committed friend to Israel and a loyal ally in our shared mission of promoting long-term peace in the region. I am committed to working to enhance the United States’ special relationship with Israel — which is critical to counter-terrorism, national security, job creation and economic growth in both the U.S. and Israel.”
Wallace, 66, is running against incumbent Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick. The Republican Jewish Coalition recently launched a $530,000 campaign, featuring a video in support of Fitzpatrick and denouncing Wallace as anti-Semitic and an enemy of Israel. It also referenced DJOP’s initial announcement that it would not endorse Wallace for Congress.
Zipin said DJOP was not pleased about being used in the advertisement, but insisted the ad had no impact on its decision to backtrack and endorse Wallace. Plus, DJOP aligns with Wallace on most domestic issues, she said.
Fitzpatrick “has voted to support President Trump’s policies more than 80 percent of the time. He is not the moderate Republican he purports to be. Counter to the interests of Bucks County residents, he has voted with his fellow Republicans on tax breaks for millionaires, and against reproductive choice and a compassionate refugee policy,” DJOP’s steering committee wrote in the endorsement.
The race between Wallace and Fitzpatrick, 44, is expected to be one of the most intensely scrutinized of November’s midterm elections. In the 2016 election, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton eked past then-GOP nominee Donald Trump with 48.4 percent of the vote in Bucks County to Trump’s 47.8 percent.
Democrats are hoping to flip the House from red to blue in November, and it won’t be easy. Republicans occupy 235 seats to Democrats’ 193, with the 1st Congressional District election considered one that could help close the gap.
Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Unit, attributed DJOP’s about-face to higher-ups within the Democratic party placing an onus on the race.
“This was one [of] the [districts] Democrats thought would be one of their easiest pickups, and they’ve found they have a candidate who is not faring as well early on as they had hoped,” Murray said. “They see some problems on the horizon and they want to make sure every Democratic group stands behind Wallace.”
DJOP is the latest organization to endorse Wallace in the past two weeks, joining the Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood and United Steelworkers.
For all of Wallace’s BDS issues, Fitzpatrick has had his share of controversy. In April he attended an event dedicated to commemorating a plane crash in Smolensk, Russia that killed 96 people, including then-Polish president Lech Kaczynski and other prominent Polish political figures. It was later revealed that several speakers who have made questionable statements about Jewish people attended the event.
“We had no prior knowledge of [the April 14] conference or its attendees, and after learning about Ewa Kurek and some of those others speakers, the congressman completely disavows their work. He finds it abhorrent and repulsive. The congressman is a staunch supporter of Israel, which his voting record reflects,” said Pat Long, Fitzpatrick’s congressional office spokesperson.