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J Street, already supporting Edwards, now backs Van Hollen, too

J Street, already supporting Edwards, now backs Van Hollen, too
Rep. Donna Edwards (right) and Chris Van Hollen. (Baltimore Sun)

A liberal Jewish group that is backing the pending nuclear agreement with Iran announced its support for Rep. Chris Van Hollen's campaign for Senate on Wednesday, months after announcing it will also support his opponent, Rep. Donna F. Edwards.

J Street, a longtime ally of Edwards, made the decision to neutralize its potential influence in the Senate contest soon after Van Hollen announced that he, too, will support the controversial agreement to limit Iran's nuclear ambitions in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.

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The announcement, first reported by The Washington Post, is not really an endorsement -- though both candidates have characterized it that way. Rather, the group is allowing supporters to contribute to both Van Hollen's and Edwards' campaign through its website.

Both Democrats are running to replace Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who is retiring in 2017.

"Representative Van Hollen's recent statement in support of the nuclear agreement with Iran is illustrative of the studied and serious consideration he brings to matters integral to the shared U.S. and Israeli interests in peace and security in the Middle East," Dan Kalik, J Street's vice president of political affairs, said in a statement.

Edwards, who has had a long relationship with J Street, pressed Van Hollen to announce his position on the Iran deal before other members of the state's congressional delegation. It's not clear whether Van Hollen's support for the deal will cost him with those who oppose it.

Edwards, an early supporter of the Iran agreement, received J Street's support in May.

Conservative Jewish leaders in Maryland aligned with American Israel Public Affairs Committee have raised concerns about Edwards, specifically a half-dozen votes she has taken on Israel that they opposed. In 2013 Edwards was one of 17 Democrats voting against legislation to impose new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, for instance.

The bill passed 400-20 but was sidelined in the Senate.

"Chris is deeply grateful for the support he's receiving from across the Jewish community in Maryland, a reflection of his unwavering commitment to both the security of Israel and the unbreakable bonds between Israel and the U.S.," Van Hollen spokesman Erik Dorey said in a statement.

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