By E.J. Kessler

Published February 20, 2004, issue of February 20, 2004.
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Edwards Opportunity?: The surprising late surge of North Carolina Senator John Edwards in the Wisconsin primary Tuesday makes the March 2 New York primary more interesting, but probably does not give Edwards the momentum he needs to take the Empire State, some local analysts said.

Surveying the local landscape for where Edwards could harvest votes here, the Edwards coalition that is shaping up here rests on some weak foundations: Edwards’s likeliest potential New York voters — a “blue-Jew” coalition of white, Catholic, blue-collar voters upstate and Orthodox Jewish voters who are miffed at Kerry for his “Carter-Baker” remark — do not generally turnout well for Democratic primaries.

“Upstate in the primary is very different than in the general,” said one New York election analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity. “In the general, trade could resonate, but in the primary, you get a more liberal electorate.”

In order to generate the kind of voter Edwards needs upstate, “You need a grassroots base. These [March 2] primaries are airport hops.” Even if Howard Dean were to exit the race and try to deed his followers to Edwards, Dean’s New York voters “are a better cultural fit” to Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, the analyst said.

New York political consultant Hank Sheinkopf also thinks the odds here heavily favor the establishment candidate Kerry, who was endorsed by most of the top statewide officeholders. “Where are the major unions which are going to turn out for John Edwards?” he asked rhetorically. “Front-runner status and momentum matter.”

* * *

Grossman’s Game Plan: Steve Grossman, who made a very public exit this week from his post as former Vermont governor Howard Dean’s campaign chairman, is offering to aid the campaign of Kerry.

The Massachusetts-based Grossman, who served as chairman of Kerry’s 1996 Senate campaign and has known Kerry for more than 30 years, told the Forward he is offering to help “with some humility, not with any expectation that I’ll fulfill any particular role” in the effort of the front-runner.

Acknowledging that Kerry was “disappointed and distressed” by Grossman’s 2002 decision to back Dean, and that many supporters had gotten onboard with Kerry early and stuck with him through some rough political times, Grossman nonetheless argued that he is uniquely qualified to represent Kerry in certain quarters.

“Even though I supported Howard Dean, there are probably not a lot of people in the Democratic Party and the Jewish community who know John Kerry’s record on foreign and Middle East policy better than I do,” said Grossman, who is both a former president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

“If John Kerry asked me to do surrogate debates, I’d do anything he asked,” Grossman said. “Whatever you need: If it’s in the Jewish community, great; if it’s fundraising, great, political strategy, great; building bridges to Howard Dean’s organization, great. It’s up to them.”

* * *

Kerry Hoax: An aide to Kerry is debunking an article in the Tehran Times that purports to quote a message from the candidate’s campaign.

The Tehran Times article, which claims to quote an e-mail message that “the office of Senator John Kerry” sent the Mehr News Agency, an Iranian outlet, was reprinted on the Web site of the Middle East Media Research Institute last week and found its way into reports posted on right-wing sites.

The purported Kerry message pitched the candidate as one who would “repair alliances with countries on every continent that have been so damaged in the past few years, as well as build new friendships and overcome tensions with others.”

According to Kerry spokesman David Wade, the message is a hoax.

“It’s time for a public service announcement: This is black helicopter season in American politics, and we’ll be seeing all kinds of confusing and confounding hoaxes and rumors shoot around the Internet, especially on right-wing sites that masquerade as news,” Wade said in an e-mail message. “This is especially suspect, and I’m scratching my head trying to figure out its origins.”

* * *

Kerry Hoax II: The woman whom Internet rumors tried to peg as a paramour of Kerry denied any relationship.

Freelance journalist Alexandra Polier, 27, said in a statement to the Associated Press this week that the rumors were “completely false.” Reports of an alleged affair began bouncing around Web sites and scandal sheets last week, propelled by gusts of political enmity, prurience and male chauvinist wishful thinking. (How can we put this delicately? Kerry, 60, unlike the boyish President Clinton, looks his age, making him an unlikely babe magnet for a 20-something.)

Polier made the statement from Nairobi, where she has been living with the parents of her fiancé, Israeli-born Yaron Schwartzman. The Schwartzman family was beset by reporters begging for tidbits. Yaron’s mother, Hannah, was described in one report as hoping that her future daughter-in-law would convert to Judaism. Now that, at least, has the ring of truth.

* * *

Fat Contribution: The contribution of Slim-Fast mogul S. Daniel Abraham to a group that ran negative ads about Dean raised eyebrows in Washington political circles.

Abraham, a major Jewish philanthropist, gave $100,000 to Americans for Jobs, Healthcare & Progressive Values, the Associated Press reported, making him one of the two biggest donors to the group.

The group ran ads attacking Dean in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, including one raising questions about his lack of foreign policy experience that showed the face of Osama bin Laden. Its funders included supporters of Gephardt and Kerry.

What raised eyebrows, however, is that Abraham’s longtime chief political factotum, Sara Ehrman, was an adviser to Dean.

Ehrman, who works as senior adviser at the Abraham-funded Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation, declined to comment on Abraham’s funding of the anti-Dean group or how her involvement with Dean might be viewed in light of it, saying only, “Danny’s going to have to speak on that himself.”

Ehrman, a relatively early supporter of Dean, helped him navigate the shoals of Jewish and Middle East affairs. Given her reputation as a noted dove, Ehrman’s presence on the campaign helped raise suspicions about Dean among hawkish pro-Israel Democrats.

Dean’s policy adviser, Jeremy Ben-Ami, a friend of Ehrman’s, said he had “no clue” why Abraham supported the anti-Dean group, adding, “I don’t know what he was told on being solicited.”

Abraham was traveling and not available for comment.

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