CAMPAIGN CONFIDENTIAL

By E.J. Kessler

Published June 25, 2004, issue of June 25, 2004.
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Bill’s Bigs: “The American-Jewish community has been very good to me,” former President Clinton writes on Page 947 of his new memoir, “My Life.”

You know it, baby.

Without American Jews, Clinton couldn’t have funded his campaigns or run his administration. But what’s more, he genuinely has an affinity for Jews, as many of his former aides attest.

“It’s such a cliché and maybe a joke, but here’s a guy for whom some of his best friends truly are Jewish, which is not easy achieving when you’re from Arkansas,” said Steve Rabinowitz, who worked as director of the Office of Design and Production in Clinton’s White House. “This is a guy who was a product of the South in the ’60s, so it’s not surprising he grew up identifying with African Americans and Jewish Americans on a level different than almost any other non-Jewish, white politician we’ve ever seen.”

So, like much of Washington, we spent some time Tuesday reading the index of Clinton’s book.

Among the so-called Jewish bigs mentioned are some names that often have been seen in these pages: S. Daniel Abraham and Haim Saban, for example. Not to mention all the worthies who worked for him in various capacities: Dan Glickman, Sandy Berger, Dennis Ross, Stu Eizenstat, Sidney Blumenthal, Rahm Emanuel, Mickey Kantor, Martin Indyk, Mandy Grunwald, Nicole Seligman, Mark Penn, Ann Lewis, Eli Segal and Bob Strauss.

* * *

Hiking to HillPAC: Speaking of Clinton cadre, one of the former president’s important operatives in the Jewish community, Sara Ehrman, this week started working two days a week at Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s political operation, HillPAC. Ehrman told the Forward she will be doing “political work, fund-raising work, a little of this, a little of that,” to ensure the re-election in 2006 of her “dear old girlfriend Hillary.” One thing that Ehrman, senior adviser for the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation, will not be doing is advising the senator on the region. “No, absolutely not,” she said in response to our question. “She has very well-developed and insightful positions on the Middle East, and she doesn’t need me advising her.” Ehrman said that for a year-and-a-half, she has worked less than full-time at the center but is still “very much involved.”

* * *

Clergy for Kerry: President Bush is trying his damnedest to reach out to right-wing religious voters: He is recruiting campaign volunteers in congregations, spoke last week to the Southern Baptist Convention about his support of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and opposition to abortion, and recently tried to enlist Catholic bishops to speak out about issues that favor Republicans.

But the presumptive Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry, if he’s inclined, may be able to employ his own religious “secret weapon”: the rabbis of Conservative Judaism.

The Forward’s Washington bureau chief, Ori Nir, reports that at a Washington advocacy day last week by the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, attendees, who tend to be liberal on social issues, were champing at the bit to express their support for Kerry. One Conservative rabbi asked how one might convince congregants who are concerned about the candidates’ positions on the Middle East to support Kerry, given Bush’s friendliness toward Israel. The rabbis’ expressions of support were so explicit that Rabbi David Saperstein — head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, who was addressing the group — had to remind his colleagues that the law exempting synagogues from taxation prohibits them from endorsing political candidates. The tax authorities will audit houses of worship to look for violators, he said, warning: “Don’t let it be your synagogue.”

* * *

Reaching Out to Religious: Hmm, maybe Kerry is inclined to court religious voters.

Kerry’s campaign is building national and state Jewish leadership teams “comprised of prominent national and local leaders in our communities,” Kerry’s senior adviser on Middle East and Jewish affairs, Jay Footlik, writes in a letter to supporters. The groups will act as surrogates for the campaign at local events and debates. Attached to Footlik’s letter is a document titled “John Kerry: Strengthening Israel’s Security and Bolstering the U.S.-Israel Special Relationship,” which Footlik asks recipients to e-mail “to friends and neighbors, to synagogues, federations, youth groups, sisterhood and brotherhood groups, study groups, to your personal and professional networks.”

But isn’t sending the e-mail to synagogues a bit like what the Bush campaign got blasted for the other week, when it sent out an e-mail looking for volunteers in “friendly congregations” to put out campaign literature in “a place accessible to the congregation”? Nah, says Footlik.

“It’s entirely different than what the Bush campaign has done,” he said. “There’s a difference between creating partisan-friendly synagogues and churches, than educating and informing. We aim to do the latter. We don’t want them to engage in political activity in a way that would jeopardize their 501(c)3 status.”

Funny, that’s pretty much what the Bush campaign said.

* * *

Name Game: The activist behind the Web site JewsforJohnKerry.com, a source for Hebrew paraphernalia promoting Kerry’s candidacy, is firing back at the comment of a Bush supporter who snickered that the Democrat should leave Kerry’s surname off the gear.

It seems that in the Talmud, “Kerry,” spelled kuf-resh-yod in Hebrew characters, is a word for an unwanted seminal emission, as the Republican yuckster pointed out to the Forward.

The comment frosted Ari Hoffnung, the Bronx financier who launched JewsforJohnKerry.com in May as a labor of love.

“I think it’s a little twisted,” he retorted about the Republican’s gibe.

“I’m fluent in Hebrew. That’s how the main papers — Ha’aretz, Yediot Aharonot — spell [Kerry’s] name.”

Hoffnung shot back that one easily can make Hebrew puns with the president’s name, such as “Bush-Busha,” meaning “Bush is a shame or a disgrace,” but added quickly, “I don’t want to go there.”

Republicans do know about the “Bush-Busha” problem, which is why Bush-promoting gear with Hebrew lettering (expect to see it at the GOP convention) sticks to “George” or “Dubya.”

Hoffnung, whose T-shirts, mugs, caps and totes sport slogans such as “John Kerry, Ha-davar Ha-ameetee” (“The Real Deal”) and “Bush Kiss My Tush,” said his site is generating queries from all kinds of folks who want to volunteer for the Kerry campaign — “anybody from somebody in California to rabbinical students” at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Manhattan seat of Conservative Judaism. Hoffnung, who plans to donate the site’s profits to Democratic organizations working to increase Jewish voter turnout, is in discussions with the National Jewish Democratic Council in hopes of hooking up, perhaps with a presence at the Democratic National Convention. He expects his venture to explode in popularity in the fall: “Come September, I think this will be of interest to Jewish college activists.”

* * *

Jews for John: The Gallup Organization, arguably the most respected pollster in America, recently published an analysis that seeks to refute Republican claims of a shift in Jewish voting.

Top Republicans, such as Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot, have predicted that Bush will take 35% of the Jewish vote this year, up from the 19% he garnered in 2000, but the Gallup results show that is unlikely to happen.

Gallup’s findings are corroborated by preliminary results from the University of Akron’s 2004 National Survey on Religion and Politics, which showed Kerry besting the president by 70% to 24%, according to a report at The New Republic’s Web site.

Using data aggregated over a number of years, Gallup found that Jews “are substantially more likely to identify themselves as Democrats than are members of any other major religious group in the country,” with 50% saying they are Democrats, compared with 34% who say they are independents and only 16% who say they are Republicans. The patterns “have remained extremely stable since the early 1990s,” the pollster wrote.

When Jewish independents are asked if they lean more toward the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, they tend to lean toward the Democratic Party, according to Gallup’s data, which found that “more than two in three Jews, 68%, either identify as Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party.”

“The resulting partisanship measures serve as a useful predictor of how people will vote, because partisanship is such a strong predictor of vote choice, and those who lean to one party are highly likely to also support that party,” the analysis said.

Gallup also found that Jews disapprove of Bush’s performance more strongly than any other religious group in the country: “The president’s approval rating among Jews is substantially lower than it is among Protestants or Catholics. Only 39% of Jews … approved of Bush, while a majority, 59%, disapprove [of the president].” By comparison, 44% of Americans with no religious affiliation approved and 52% disapproved of Bush, while a majority of those “who identify themselves as Protestant (63%) and Catholic (61%) approved of the way Bush is handling the presidency.”

Concluded the report: “There has been discussion this year that Bush might have a chance of doing better with Jewish voters given his strong pro-Israeli stance in the Middle East situation (and the war in Iraq, which some have interpreted as a bid to make that region safer for Israel in the long run). But the data reviewed in this report continue to suggest that Bush will be hard-pressed to win the votes of Jewish Americans, given their continuing strong preference for the Democratic Party as well as their majority disapproval of Bush.”






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