By E.J. Kessler

Published January 16, 2004, issue of January 16, 2004.
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Clark Climb: Capitalizing on his surge in New Hampshire, retired general Wesley Clark is stepping up his push for support in the Jewish community, which some observers have identified as a key source of the more than $10 million in contributions that he posted for the fourth quarter of 2003.

According to an e-mail message being circulated by the Clark campaign, Rep. Martin Frost, a Texas Democrat, is “the latest in a string of Jewish congressional leaders to endorse” Clark. The campaign also named Menachem Rosensaft, founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, as a supporter.

The e-mail, from Clark’s Jewish outreach coordinator, Greg Caplan, encourages recipients to host a “Jewish house party” on January 21.

“In addition to the standard house party features, which include a viewing of the ‘American Son’ biographical film, a conference call with General Clark, and a new trivia game for the guests, Jewish house parties will join a conference call with a mystery guest — a Jewish leader of national repute and a supporter of Wes Clark. The ‘Jewish house parties’ will have exclusive access to this call, but the discussion can go wherever you want it to go.”

* * *

Poll Pile-on: The American Jewish Committee released a poll this week that contained the startling news that Jews remain overwhelmingly Democratic. According to the poll, conducted last month by Market Facts, all the top Democratic presidential candidates beat President Bush by large margins in head-to-head match-ups: Senator Joseph Lieberman by 71% to 24%, former Vermont governor Howard Dean and Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt by 60% to 31%, Clark by 59% to 29% and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry by 59% to 31%.

Still, Bush did better compared to the 19% who voted for him in the 2000 election. So, the Republican Jewish Coalition publicized the results under the banner, “Republican Jewish Coalition Encouraged by Shift Towards GOP.RJC executive director Matt Brooks said, “It’s a great place to start the campaign from.”

A Democratic strategist begged to differ. “All the Democrats lead Bush 2-to-1,” said Steve Rabinowitz. “Howard Dean leads Bush 2-to-1, and he hasn’t even spent $100 million on television advertising. There’s nothing good in this for Republicans, nothing.”

* * *

Off to the Races: New year, familiar faces: At least two Jewish candidates are returning to try their luck at winning election to Congress in 2004.

In Florida’s Republican-leaning 13th Congressional District, Democratic environmental lawyer Jan Schneider is seeking a rematch with Republican Rep. Katherine Harris, the former Florida secretary of state who won her seat after playing a prominent role in the state’s 2000 recount election drama. Harris, a Cruella De Vil figure in the Democrats’ telling of the Florida events, is mulling a bid for the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Bob Graham. President Bush is reportedly pressuring her to abandon that thought, given how her presence on a statewide ballot might energize Democrats angry with the 2000 outcome. But whether Harris runs for the House or Senate, Schneider remains undeterred. She garnered 45% of the vote in 2002, not bad considering the wealthy Harris’ name recognition and local clout. Even so, Bush won this district with 53% of the vote to Al Gore’s 45%, so it’s not exactly a swing area, although Schneider, a friend of New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, described it to the Forward in 2002 as a “RINO,” for “Republican in name only.”

Another Jewish 2002 contender returning for a second bout is Oklahoma education consultant Lou Barlow, who lost his bid to represent Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District to longtime conservative Republican incumbent Rep. Ernest Istook. The 5th District, a Republican stronghold, gained some more Democratic voters in a recent redistricting, and Barlow’s strong pro-Israel message resonates well with the devoutly Christian population there, he told the Forward during his 2002 run. Istook raised the ire of some Jewish organizations in the 1990s for sponsoring a proposed constitutional amendment on school prayer, but that issue has been dormant since the proposal’s defeat.

Schneider, Barlow and some new Jewish faces who are seeking the Democratic nod to run for Congress are profiled in a memo put out by the political action committee, or PAC, of the National Jewish Democratic Council. The PAC, which does not take sides in primaries, also provided equivalent information on the non-Jews in those races. The newbies are:

In Florida’s solidly Democratic 20th District, State Senator Debbie Wasserman Schultz is seeking to succeed Rep. Peter Deutsch, who is vacating his seat to run for Graham’s office. Wasserman Schultz, a former aide to Deutsch who so far has no challengers for the nomination, was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1992 at age 26 — the youngest woman ever to be elected to the Florida legislature. With more than $220,000 raised, the momentum generated by local labor support and a progressive record, she is expected to be an appealing candidate in this liberal, heavily Jewish district encompassing Miami-Dade and Broward counties, according to the memo.

In Missouri’s Democratic 5th District, Jamie Metzl, 35, a rookie candidate with Capitol Hill experience, is competing with former congressional aide Damian Thorman in a Democratic primary for the chance to run for the seat of retiring Democratic Rep. Karen McCarthy, a five-term incumbent.

A foreign affairs and homeland security expert, Metzl has taught human rights law at the Georgetown University Law Center and worked as an aide at the State Department, the White House National Security Council and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Metzl’s professional experience and his ties to this Kansas City district — he’s a native whose parents were refugees of Nazi Europe — have translated into big bucks: more than $300,000, the memo notes.

In Pennsylvania’s 13th congressional district, a swing district in a key state for Democrats in the 2004 presidential election, two Jewish candidates are vying in a primary to receive the nod to run for the seat being vacated by Democratic Rep. Joe Hoeffel. Hoeffel, who won with only 51% of the vote in this district encompassing Philadelphia and its suburbs, is giving up his seat to mount a run against incumbent Republican Senator Arlen Specter, who in turn faces a Republican primary challenge from conservative Patrick Toomey in March. The two Jewish contenders for Hoeffel’s seat are State Senator Allyson Schwartz, who has championed education and healthcare, and State Rep. Mark Cohen, the Pennsylvania House Democratic Caucus chairman. Schwartz has the edge: She is endorsed by the influential Emily’s List and by the third quarter of last year had raised more than $800,000 to Cohen’s $40,000. Joseph Torsella, a former aide to then-Philadelphia mayor (now governor) Edward Rendell, is also running for the nomination in the district.

Finally, Andy Rosenberg, a Jewish lobbyist and public affairs attorney in Washington, D.C., is challenging Democratic Rep. Jim Moran in a primary in Virginia’s 8th District. Moran antagonized many American Jews last year when he stated in a public appearance that he believed the Jewish community had pushed the nation into the Iraq war, although he since has apologized for his remarks. Moran for a time had another challenger, local official Kate Hanley, but she recently bowed out, leaving the political novice Rosenberg to face the entrenched incumbent.

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