By E.J. Kessler

Published November 07, 2003, issue of November 07, 2003.
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Sunshine State Scramble: Rep. Peter Deutsch, a Jewish Democrat from south Florida, has emerged as the best-financed of the several contenders vying to replace Senator Bob Graham, who declared this week that he would not run for re-election in 2004.

Deutsch, whose district stretches from Broward County south to Key West, has some $3 million cash on hand, dwarfing the war chests of rivals such as Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas and former state education commissioner Betty Castor.

Deutsch is well positioned for a Democratic primary in several regards, local observers say. He has good name recognition and none of the taint that adheres to Penelas, who could expect a good base of support among Hispanics as a Cuban American but who carries some baggage from having risen through the local Democratic machine. Castor comes from central Florida and has appeal as a moderate, but she has gotten a late start in fund raising and has the disadvantage of not currently being in office. A wild card is Rep. Alcee Hastings, a black former federal judge who has cultivated pro-Israel donors and who could presumably muster black support. But that’s a long-shot bid, say local handicappers.

Known as an acerbic campaigner who lashes out at his opponents, Deutsch may be his own worst enemy, however.

“He’s viewed as having had his own agenda, rather than being a Democratic Party team player, by a number of elected officials, which may hurt him,” said University of South Florida political scientist Susan MacManus.

Deutsch is likely to run into heavy seas if he makes it to the general election, because of his political orientation and downstate base. “I’m skeptical about the ability of a liberal, Jewish south Florida congressman to win a lot of votes in central and north Florida,” a Capitol Hill staffer for a Florida lawmakersaid on condition of anonymity. Any Democrat coming out of south Florida with a big lead still needs to capture votes in central Florida and to cut down the Republican advantage in north Florida in order to win, the staffer said.

Not surprisingly, Florida Republicans are happy to paint Deutsch as a south Florida liberal. The state GOP’s executive director for political affairs, Geoffrey Becker, said that Deutsch “doesn’t come from the mainstream base of Florida,” which he said accounts for Deutsch’s take-no-prisoners campaigning style. “It’s in [Deutsch’s] interest to go after every other candidate — that’s what he’s done,” Becker said. “If I were his Democratic opponents, I’d be nervous.”

Becker also gave a candid appraisal of Graham’s political future: He’s history. “I’d be very, very surprised if the [Democratic presidential] nominee were to pick him” as a running mate, Becker said, adding that Graham “has to focus on mending fences so that he could keep his legacy intact.”

* * *

Feeding Their Base?: In more Florida sparring, the chairman of the Broward County Democratic Party, Mitch Ceasar, is claiming the state’s Republican governor, Jeb Bush, had an ulterior motive when he intervened last month in the legal and medical situation of Terry Schiavo.

Schiavo is the comatose Florida woman whose feeding tube, withdrawn at the behest of her husband, was replaced after the governor intervened, prompting a special act of the legislature ordering a resumption of her care.

Ceasar said the governor and legislature had so moved in order to stimulate the Republicans’ “extreme base.”

“That was purely an appeal to the most conservative element of Floridians,” he said. “It’s unprecedented. When does a legislature intervene to respond to the needs of one individual? It does because it serves their extreme base.”

Becker, the state Republican spokesman, vehemently rejected Ceasar’s comment. “To say someone’s playing politics with someone’s life is a lot out of bounds,” he said. The governor, Becker added, “responded to what he perceived to be a public-policy crisis… he certainly has not made it a prominent issue… he hasn’t gone on TV and radio.”

* * *

All in the Family: Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman has taken many positions on the Arab-Israel conflict that put him at odds with the Jewish peace camp. But that didn’t stop his campaign from sending a representative to a candidates’ forum at the Brit Tzedek v’Shalom conference in Boston on Sunday. Matt Lieberman, the senator’s son, represented his dad. In a way, it was a family affair. According to the campaign, Matt’s uncle Bert, Joe’s sister’s husband, is involved with Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, a group with a “Peace Now”-type orientation whose name means “Alliance for Justice and Peace.” The campaign of Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich was represented by its policy coordinator, Charles Lenchner. The campaign of former Vermont governor Howard Dean sent its national co-chairman Steve Grossman. The campaign of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry sent fundraiser Alan Solomont.

* * *

Digging Scoop: A Jewish Democratic group is creating an award to memorialize Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington state, the legendary liberal internationalist who did much to win the Cold War and whose staunch support for the Jewish state helped it through some rough times. The National Jewish Democratic Council is giving its Jackson award to House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland at a dinner ceremony in Potomac, Md., on December 2 for “the exemplary role [Hoyer] has played in both maintaining and increasing support for the State of Israel by Democratic Party leaders and elected officials,” the council said in an e-mail to the Forward. The council notes that Hoyer has been to Israel six times, most recently in August, when he led the largest-ever congressional delegation to Israel, which included 29 House Democrats.

* * *

Republican Roundup: Outgoing Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was wrong when he said in a recent speech at a summit of Muslim nations that “the Jews rule the world.” Silly Mahathir! Everyone knows that it is the Republicans who rule the world — or at least all the elected branches of American government. Jews should not feel slighted, however. Emissaries of the ruling party are gracing several Jewish councils with pearls of wisdom. President Bush’s former top mouthpiece, Ari Fleischer, spoke on Sunday to the American Friends of Yad Vashem. Attorney General John Ashcroft was to have addressed the Anti-Defamation League on Thursday, discoursing on — what else? — “the war on terror.” The Orthodox Union’s Institute of Public Affairs, meanwhile, is set to hear Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania on November 10.

* * *

Charge to Keep: The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe, is sponsoring a promotion that brings new meaning to the expression “card-carrying member” of a political party.

“Help support the Democratic Party with the new Democratic Party Visa Platinum card!” trumpets the promotion, which arrived in the mail at a reporter’s home Monday.

For no annual fee, the card offers 0% interest until November 2004 and a chance to “help return Democratic values to Washington.”

Talk about “leading the charge” for your political vision….

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