Mr. Vogel Wants to Go to Washington

Maryland state Del. Joe Vogel (District 17) calls himself a firm Israel supporter. Photo courtesy Md. state Del. Joe Vogel

David Mark

If Maryland Democratic state Del. Joe Vogel, 26, wins an open House seat based in Montgomery County, he’ll be among the youngest members of Congress. But Vogel’s no political newcomer.

The first-term state lawmaker, representing the Rockville-Gaithersburg area, has worked on campaigns, and spent time on Capitol Hill, since his Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School days. Beginning with the successful state Senate campaign of Maryland Democrat Cheryl Kagan, in 2014, and then as an intern for top Democratic congressional leaders. Vogel took a year off from George Washington University to work for the campaign of the party’s 2016 Democratic nominee, Hillary Rodham Clinton. More campaigns followed, including Ralph Northam’s successful 2018 Virginia gubernatorial bid.

After college Vogel was off to Cambridge, Mass., where he earned a master’s in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. And in 2022, Vogel won a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates, making him the youngest lawmaker in Annapolis.

“I first got involved in politics after the [2012] Sandy Hook shooting. Also, the climate crisis, the injustices in our community motivated me,” Vogel said in an interview. “Eventually as I watched our government at all levels, I decided to run for the legislature.”

There he has followed through by pushing legislation to tackle gun violence, climate change, the fentanyl crisis and voting rights. He looks at it as a Jewish agenda, reflecting “values of tikkun olam, a sacred obligation to repair the world, which really motivated me to get involved civically.”

Vogel is touting those and other issues in his U.S. House campaign, running to replace Democratic Rep. David Trone in the northwestern Washington D.C. exurbs 6th Congressional District, stretching from central and northern Montgomery County west through the Maryland panhandle. Trone, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, is giving up the House seat he won in 2018 for a Maryland Senate bid to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin.

Vogel counts himself as a firm Israel supporter, reflecting a broad, but not unified view among the House Democrats he hopes to join in office.

“I am a progressive and I am pro-Israel and I see those two viewpoints being harmonious,” Vogel said.

Youth is also a theme of his campaign.

“We need a new generation of leadership to tackle the challenges we’re facing,” said Vogel, who is 13 days older than the current youngest member of Congress, Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.). “I think there’s a new generation of people saying, ‘We are fed up with gun violence, we’re fed up with the climate crisis, we’re fed up with our schools not receiving enough funding, and we are doing something about it.’”

That can be a potent campaign trail message, said former Connecticut state Sen. Will Haskell, 27, who strategized with Vogel ahead of and during his 2022 Maryland delegate run.

“For young people, climate change isn’t some academic problem. Same with so many other issues,” Haskell, now an NYU law school student, said in an interview. “We know what it’s like to participate in a school-shooter drill.”

Vogel would be the first member of Congress who is gay, Latino and Jewish. Vogel was born in Uruguay, and his family immigrated to the United States when he was 3, due to his father’s job with the International Monetary Fund.

Vogel said he can put his Hebrew and Spanish skills to good use in the 6th District’s diverse Montgomery County base. The district also stretches west more than 110 miles, through more conservative Western Maryland terrain in Garrett, Allegany, Frederick and Washington counties.

On a drive through the mountainous region, lawn and yard signs touting former President Donald Trump are common. It’s closer culturally to western Pennsylvania a few miles north, and West Virginia directly south and west, than the deep blue Washington, D.C., exurbs.The district came into effect in January 2023. Under its lines in the 2020 White House race, President Joe Biden would have beaten Trump there 53.9 percent to 44.1%, per Daily Kos Elections.

Vogel is confident he’ll be able to appeal to residents across the district.

“I’ve found wherever we go, when you show up and focus on the issues, you can have really productive conversations,” Vogel said. “We’re going to show people that when we win, we’re going to deliver for them.”

But Vogel doesn’t have the Democratic primary field to himself. State Del. Lesley Lopez is in, and more Democrats could still join the fray.

“That seat could attract a lot of candidates,” said Mileah Kromer, professor of political science at Goucher College, in Baltimore, and an expert on Maryland politics. Democrats have an edge in the November 2024 general election but not overwhelmingly so, Kromer said.

“If Republicans nominate somebody who can win no votes at all in Montgomery County, they can’t win the seat,” Kromer said. But, she added, it would be unwise for Democrats to push a nominee in the mold of far-left firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

“This is not AOC’s district. You need some crossover voting,” Kromer said.

Prominent area Democrats are largely holding off on endorsements with the primary nearly a year away. Including Kagan, who said she first met Vogel when he was a teen team leader member in the Jewish youth group BBYO. Now they’re legislative colleagues in Annapolis.

“I am a big fan of Joe Vogel’s. He’s high-energy and smart. He does his homework. People both like and respect him,” Kagan said in interview. “I’m very proud of how hard he worked to get elected and to learn about the issues, and his House colleagues respect him.”

Despite her enthusiasm for Vogel, she said she worries “that the 6th Congressional District may be hard to hold for somebody who isn’t David Trone.”

In an election year in which Cardin’s retirement has opened up rungs on the Maryland Democratic Party’s political ladder, Vogel is already making the climb. ■

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