Progressive Dems Rally Behind Michigan Primary Candidate Facing AIPAC-backed Rival

The pro-Israel lobbying group has targeted progressive Rep. Andy Levin for his stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, funneling millions of dollars to his challenger

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Rep. Andy Levin at a progressive Democratic primary rally in Pontiac, Michigan, on Friday.
Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Rep. Andy Levin at a progressive Democratic primary rally in Pontiac, Michigan, on Friday.Credit: BILL PUGLIANO/AFP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

PONTIAC, Mich – Ahead of Tuesday’s hotly contested Michigan Democratic primaries, the progressive wing of the Democratic party rallied behind Rep. Andy Levin, including a high-profile visit to the state by Senator Bernie Sanders. The Vermont Senator appeared at an election rally alongside Levin and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, both of whom are facing challengers supported by AIPAC.

Sanders, Levin and Tlaib described AIPAC’s major spending in Michigan as part of a broader phenomenon of billionaires trying to impact elections via SuperPACs. “There is something profoundly wrong in our political system when a handful of billionaires, through those super PACs that spend millions of dollars, try to defeat progressive candidates for Congress,” Sanders told the crowd. “That is not what democracy is about. That is what oligarchy is about.”

The Vermont senator urged voters to send a message by re-electing Levin and Tlaib over their challengers, Rep. Haley Stevens who is trying to defeat Levin in the 11th district and Janice Winfrey who is taking on Tlaib in the 12th. He said voters concerned about this issue should support Levin and Tlaib even if they do not agree with them on every policy matter.

“We cannot allow billionaires to buy elections. Not only here in Michigan — they’re doing it in Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, all across this country,” Sanders said, referring to a number of Democratic primaries where AIPAC’s United Democracy Project SuperPAC invested millions of dollars to defeat progressive candidates.

“If you think these super PACs give a damn about the people in Michigan or Detroit, you would be absolutely mistaken. They couldn't care less about you. They run the same damn ads in Pittsburgh, in Ohio, in Texas — same thing,” he continued.

Levin noted AIPAC has spent $4.2 million in hopes of defeating him “because I stand for a simple proposition: The only way to have a secure peaceful homeland for the Jewish people, for my people, is to fully achieve the political and human rights of the Palestinian people, and I will not back down.”

“You know what freaks them out the most about this? My position comes from my Jewish values, straight from the Torah, which says love the stranger as yourself,” Levin continued. “Who is the most important stranger for the Jewish people? It's the Palestinian people, our cousins. Let's learn to live together and love each other.”

Levin noted he is being outspent five-to-one, largely thanks to outside donors and significant donations from Republican megadonors to UDP.

“Are we going to let billionaires like Paul Singer, who ruined AT&T and helped send a lot of great middle-class jobs overseas, or Bernie Marcus, the co-founder of Home Depot and a huge union-buster, decide who is the next Congressperson from the 11th district?” he asked the crowd.

While UDP has not targeted Tlaib this cycle, the Palestinian-American lawmaker has been targeted by a different SuperPAC with ties to pro-Israel Republican megadonors.

The newly founded Urban Empowerment Action PAC, created under the guise of “dedication to the educational empowerment and economic uplift of Black communities,” is heavily bankrolled by billionaire hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb.

Loeb has donated significant funds to other projects aiming to bolster pro-Israel candidates. The PAC has spent nearly $475,000 in the past two weeks in hopes of supporting Winfrey, who has cited Tlaib’s positions on Israel as a main reason for her running.

Tlaib told the crowd that “out-of-state billionaires and dark-money Super PACs are pumping obscene amounts of money into our districts. They're trying to come here and tell us what to think,” accusing them of “running misleading ads, mailers full of lies and nasty social media ads. It just makes me want to work harder.”

Local supporters at the rally similarly noted that out-of-state spending was alarming, and that the focus on Israel only serves as a distraction from the more pressing issues for local constituents.

“I'm not a huge fan of politicians that take huge PAC money, in general. I like showing up for progressives that are running for Congress, even if I'm not necessarily in their district. I just feel like you can't really call yourself a progressive if you're taking huge PAC money,” said Vivian Pendergast, a student at nearby Wayne State University.

Progressive supporters Vivian Pendergast and Megan Mueller at a rally ahead of the Michigan Democratic primaries, in Pontiac, Michigan, on Friday.Credit: Ben Samuels

Bill and Kate Brandham, a retired couple in Levin’s district, received UDP-funded mailers attacking the progressive representative, and lauded him for continuously standing up for his beliefs. They help run an organization called Proving Innocence aimed at overturning false convictions, noting that both Levin and Tlaib were not afraid to go against Democratic Party orthodoxy in specific cases.

Progressive supporters Bill and Kate Brandham at a rally ahead of the Michigan Democratic primaries, in Pontiac, Michigan, on Friday.Credit: Ben Samuels

“Politicians are busy trying to increase the value of their party more than doing the right thing. When you find a politician doing something right, even though it might not be popular – that’s one we want in office,” Kate said.

As of Saturday, UDP has spent a total of $26.3 million — exclusively on Democratic primaries — with $10.5 million funding attack ads. The PAC dedicated $4.2 million to the Levin-Stevens race, which is seen as a major test for AIPAC’s political strategy, as well as for Israel’s standing in the Democratic party and within the U.S. Jewish community.

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