By E.J. Kessler

Published April 25, 2003, issue of April 25, 2003.
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Does the presidential candidacy of Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman have a Jewish problem? Some folks seem to think so.

The Hartford Courant took its home-state senator to task last week for what it called his “dismal” first-quarter contribution filing, saying there was a “Jewish wrinkle” to Lieberman’s lackluster showing: The senator’s centrist values are out of step with the liberal Jews who give to Democratic candidates, the paper reported.

Problem is, many of the more conservative Jewish Democrats who might give to Lieberman appear not to be reaching for their checkbooks, either.

“Joe’s natural big constituency is sitting on their hands,” said one New York fundraiser and Lieberman supporter who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Many, many Jewish people do not want a Jewish president.”

The fundraiser said that many politically conservative and centrist Jews “are big fans of George Bush right now,” especially because “the Israelis are telling people that he’s their best friend” and “people do not want a Jewish president when relations with Israel could become very tense.”

Lieberman also has caused some of his own problems, the fundraiser said. “People did not love Joe’s last campaign,” the fundraiser said, referring to Lieberman’s 2000 vice-presidential run. “He’s not ‘good old Joe’ anymore. He seems more like a politician.”

Finally, he suggested, God himself has been unkind to Joseph I. Lieberman: “People say he’s too short. He doesn’t look presidential.”

Such problems lead the fundraiser to conclude that Lieberman’s bid is doomed. “I don’t think he has legs,” he said. “I’d be amazed if he went all the way.”

Others think Lieberman’s recent fundraising troubles stem from his politics and persona. “Lieberman’s problems are not about his being Jewish but about him being a neo-con in a Democratic primary, about his apparent inability to connect with voters/givers without Al Gore’s shirttails, about his lack of relationships with individual big fundraisers and about his so-far lackluster campaign,” said a Democratic strategist who, like the fundraiser, declined to be named.

A glance at several candidates’ filings suggests some troubling weaknesses in Lieberman’s fundraising efforts to date. For example, Lieberman’s operation appears to have done little bundling of contributions from multiple family members or members of the same firm. Meanwhile, the top earners, Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina have done plenty. Lieberman donors tend to cluster in four states — Connecticut, New York, California and Florida — while other campaigns, particularly Kerry’s, have broad penetration throughout the country. Meanwhile, Jewish political mega-givers, such as S. Daniel Abraham and Haim Saban, gave to four different campaigns — but not to Lieberman. The Connecticut senator did poorly among many big givers who gave to multiple candidates, according to a cross tabulation of campaign filings done by National Journal’s daily Hotline.

Lieberman’s campaign has cited a late start as the reason for its troubles. “We are pleased with the strong support we have in the Jewish-American community,” spokesman Jano Cabrera said. “But as is the case with any group, we are not taking that support for granted. Lieberman intends to work hard for every vote.”

Others dismissed the dicey filing as a passing phase. “I haven’t heard that [Lieberman’s campaign] is having any trouble, and I speak to them a lot,” said Washington fundraising consultant Tina Stoll. “It’s very early. Nobody should count anybody out.”

* * *

Names, names, names. One of books of the Bible, actually, is the Hebrew word for “names.” The following are some notable names — Jewish and otherwise — that appeared in some of the first-quarter contribution filings. Giving to Lieberman: bagel baron Marvin Lender, New York chemicals magnate Jack Bendheim, World Trade Center owner Larry Silverstein, former Aipac president Lonny Kaplan, Clinton lawyer Lanny Davis of the firm Patton Boggs, California venture capitalist Laura Lauder, investors Howard and Abby Milstein, Israel Policy Forum founder Michael Sonnenfeldt, Cleveland developer Ronald Ratner, Aipac grandees Barbi and Lawrence Weinberg, former Mattel chief Jill Barad, Chicago real-estate king Lester Crown and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. To Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt: Communications Workers of America president Morton Bahr (does this bode well for his union’s nod?), Thomas Hale Boggs of Patton Boggs, longtime Jewish communal leader Shoshana Cardin, Hollywood bigwig Marvin Davis and singer Barry Manilow (who maxed out for the Gepster). To Kerry: actress Thora Birch; a number of folks named Boies who share the Armonk, N.Y., address of Gore lawyer David, but not, unless we missed it, said lawyer himself; several Massachusetts Boks; a passel of Cabots (and one Lodge) and, not to be left off any aspiring presidential candidate’s list, New York supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis.

* * *

Gephardt’s filing was distinguished by many small donations from around the country, which likely reflects the nascent strength of his direct-mail operation. Another plus for Gephardt: California. He raised $526,250 there — much of it, by the looks of it, from Jews — second only to his $846,143 take in his native Missouri, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Gephardt will return in May to the Golden State, where his campaign is being organized by longtime consultant Bill Carrick. Gephardt’s highest-profile supporter in California is Bill Wardlaw, Bill Clinton’s 1992 and 1996 California campaign chairman, who also helped elect Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn.

* * *

New York, New York! It’s a helluva town… in which to raise money, thinks the presidential campaign of former Vermont governor Howard Dean. Dean’s campaign has sent a fundraiser who was working in Burlington, Emily Wurgaft, to set up shop in Manhattan as northeast finance director. She’ll be going back and forth between there, the campaign’s Vermont base, Boston and Philadelphia.

The campaign of Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio is opening a New York office, too: at 18th Street, under the direction of lawyer Jeremy Manning.

* * *

Speaking of New York, veteran New York Democratic operative Allen Cappelli is opening his own government relations and public affairs shop. The witty Staten Islander, an old Cuomocrat who last served as campaign manager of the unsuccessful 2002 gubernatorial bid of H. Carl McCall, is known for his ties to diverse groups of New Yorkers, including trade unionists and chasidim. He told the Forward he would be working “on behalf of business, labor and the occasional candidate.”

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