CAMPAIGN CONFIDENTIAL

By E.J. Kessler

Published January 30, 2004, issue of January 30, 2004.

Push Calls?: Howard Dean’s campaign is accusing John Kerry’s of stoking anti-Jewish sentiment in what the Dean campaign is describing as “dozens” of so-called “push calls” it claims that Dean supporters received in New Hampshire.

The Kerry campaign hotly denied the charge and threw it back at the Dean campaign, accusing it of using “deeply insulting” tactics and spreading division for political gain.

The charges arose earlier this week when a Dean volunteer, Frances Gehling of Londonderry, N.H., reported that she had received a call from a woman claiming to be a Kerry volunteer who brought up Dean’s Jewish wife and children and asked how someone who was married to a Jew and raising a Jewish family could have Christian values. Dean has said he would talk about Jesus in Southern states.

Gehling told the Forward that she spoke to the woman about various subjects for about 15 minutes and was “shocked” when she brought up Dean’s family’s Judaism. “I did feel she was playing to antisemitism,” Gehling said. She said she did not know if the remark came from a script or whether it was the thought of “an inappropriate, overzealous volunteer.”

The Dean campaign alleges the sentiment was part of a Kerry campaign script for what is known in the political business as a “push call,” one that seeks to sow negative feelings about a candidate. “We have reports of dozens of these calls being received,” said Dean’s Jewish affairs adviser, Matt Dorf. He said none of the other Dean supporters who had received the alleged calls was willing to talk to the press.

The Kerry campaign lashed out at Dorf and the other Dean operatives who were pushing the story, which appeared widely in the press.

“The masters of misdirection in the Dean campaign are launching 11th-hour, desperate allegations against the Kerry campaign which are not only false, but deeply insulting,” Kerry spokesman David Wade said in an e-mail to the Forward. “They should be ashamed that their dying campaign rejected by voters is now unleashing attack dogs to make unsubstantiated claims. Voters will see through these transparently baseless, politically motivated, divisive claims.”

Political consultants and Jewish communal professionals said such complaints sometimes arise when campaigns are hotly contested.

“Does it happen? Yes,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League National. “Is this subject susceptible to political game-playing? Yes. Is it acceptable? Absolutely not.”

Both Foxman and the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Manchester, Adam Solender, said that they had not heard a single report of the alleged calls.

* * *

Dean Family Values: Former Vermont governor Dean and his doctor wife Judith Steinberg Dean, in the course of trying to stanch the damage from his post-loss Iowa scream, have shed light on how one Jewish-Christian interfaith family handles the question of religious observance in modern America.

During a now-famous television interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer last week, the couple answered questions about religious observance in their home and how their families viewed their marriage.

“We celebrate all the Jewish holidays, usually with my family,” Steinberg Dean said in response to Sawyer’s query. “And we celebrate the Christian holidays with Howard’s family. And we try to involve the children with both faiths and have them make their own decisions about what they want to do. And that’s what they’re doing.”

Steinberg Dean denied that there was ever any tension among her family because of the marriage, saying, “Even my grandmother loves Howard.” Her husband, however, added a caveat about her Jewish grandmother that many Jews will recognize: “I think she would’ve been happier if I was Jewish,” he said.

The former governor added that his Christian family readily accepted his wife. “My father and mother, first of all, they adore Judy,” he said. “My mother loved Judy because she read The New York Times Book Review and nobody else in the house did. My father thought she was great. And my father and mother had very difficult times. My father was Protestant and my mother was Catholic. In those days, that was a big deal. I mean, they did have a rough time. And I think my parents were determined not, because I married outside my faith… they were never going to make an issue of that and they never did.”

At one point in the interview, Dean launched into a paean to his independent wife that seems certain to raise his standing with women. “She’s a real life partner, not just a, you know, somebody I fell in love with,” he said. “She is a friend and I respect her, and that is enormous for me. Plus, she’s a lot smarter than I am.”

After the scream, there’s no doubt about that.



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