When Hillarys Josh met Obamas Eric

Eric Lynn, a staffer on Jewish affairs for the Barack Obama campaign, and Josh Kram, his counterpart in the Hillary Clinton campaign, are in an intense battle these days for support from a key Democratic constituency.

But nearly a decade ago Kram and Lynn were roommates, sharing a barely furnished Washington, D.C., apartment in 1998 as summer college interns for AIPAC.

It’s a familiar tale that exemplies the smallness of the Jewish political community, and how AIPAC and other Jewish groups have an eye for top political talent on campuses.

“AIPAC is an organization with some of the best opportunities for students wanting to learn about Middle East policy,” said Lynn, who attended Northwestern University.

Being a campaign’s Jewish liaison is often a launch for senior policy work in an administration. With postgraduate backgrounds studying Middle East politics and peacemaking, Kram or Lynn might eventually have the president’s ear on such matters.

Lynn and David Goldenberg — another roommate that summer, who now is a top adviser to Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) — recalled capping intensive training at AIPAC headquarters on Capitol Hill with hazy summer evenings spent watching girls on the Georgetown waterfront.

But the first challenge they faced was the apartment.

AIPAC had grouped the four roommates — including Seth Weisblatt, who now helps run his family’s furniture business in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — and they did not know one another when they unlocked the door to the apartment in the capital’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood that was nearly bare.

The female university students who sublet them the two-bedroom apartment for the summer thought that all their tenants would need was a couple mattresses on the floor, a big TV and a couch. For a coffee table, the interns upended an old tub.

“We figured out a way around it and negotiated it,” Goldenberg said.

Lynn filled in the details: The women agreed to let the guys buy cheap furniture and take the cost out of the rent.

Weisblatt remembers the four rotating between a foam mattress, a bed, a futon and a sleeping bag on the floor. It didn’t matter much, he said.

“It was awesome — we were in college and spending summer with people energized by AIPAC, by politics,” said Weisblatt, who was then at the University of Kansas.

The interns met heads of state and top Palestinian negotiators, and had an insider’s tour of CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.

Lynn and Kram shared a bedroom in the apartment. Was there anything then that suggested Lynn would hook up with Obama and Kram with Clinton? Was Lynn the sweeter talker? Did Kram hit the books a little too hard?

No, said Goldenberg, whose boss is backing Clinton; Kram and Lynn, he added, are more alike than different.

“They’ve both got two really qualified and knowledgeable individuals, either of whom would be a fantastic liaison to Jews in the White House,” said Goldenberg, who was then at Michigan State.

Other alumni from AIPAC’s 1998 class of summer interns now hold key positions at the Defense, State and Commerce departments.

“AIPAC picks the best of the best,” Goldenberg said.

The roommates’ ties remained close enough that Goldenberg’s wife set up Lynn with his current girlfriend.

Lynn said he has a friendship with Kram, despite being engaged in opposing campaigns that may drag out to the party convention in August. He also asserted that Kram would never question Obama’s pro-Israel bona fides, as have a couple Clinton campaigners.

“I know that Josh is aware of Senator Obama’s strong support for Israel,” Lynn said, “which is why I’m confident he would not be personally involved in these attacks.”

Kram, a University of Florida student at the time of his AIPAC internship, did not address the topic of his summer with the guys, instead issuing a statement about his decision to work for Clinton: “I joined the campaign because Senator Clinton is the presidential candidate whose record demonstrates that she best understands and supports the U.S.-Israel relationship and I am proud to be an advocate for her in the Jewish community.”

Ron Kampeas

Ron Kampeas is the D.C. bureau chief at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.