Fulfilling their need to name a winner and a loser for every campaign development, pundits were describing former vice president Al Gore’s endorsement this week of former Vermont governor Howard Dean as a body blow to the presidential aspirations of Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman. Lieberman clearly was surprised and chagrined by the move of his 2000 running mate but vowed to soldier on.
“The voters are a month and a half away from voting,” Lieberman said on NBC’s “Today Show” on Tuesday morning. “I never premised my campaign on Al Gore’s support…. Al Gore has only one vote in the primaries.”
Observers said, however, that it would be an exaggeration to say that Gore’s move dealt a crushing blow to Lieberman’s candidacy because, in effect, you can’t kill what’s already dead. Rather, Gore’s endorsement simply exposed what has been apparent to many observers for months: that Lieberman’s moderate-voiced, pro-Iraq-war, centrist effort has failed to excite an angry, anti-war, liberal Democratic base.
“They were running a general-election strategy in a six-way primary… where the key is playing to the Democratic base,” said Democratic strategist Laurie Moskowitz, who managed the get-out-the-vote effort for the Gore-Lieberman ticket in 2000.
Lieberman’s apparent failure, Moskowitz said, has no larger sociological ramifications and does not indicate that a Jewish candidate has no chance to become president.
“It doesn’t mean that a Jewish candidate wasn’t viable — it means that people didn’t resonate to Joe Lieberman’s message,” Moskowitz said. “People don’t dislike him; they want to see him in [public office] but they don’t see him as… a potential leader of the free world.”
From the beginning, Lieberman’s candidacy has failed to unite the Jewish grassroots, such as they are, despite the senator’s residual popularity from the 2000 campaign. Jewish Democratic activists and donors of various stripes quickly divided their support among the Democratic field; one measure of such division is the fact that nearly all the top candidates have Jewish finance chairmen, a key campaign post.
The question for the centrist, hawkish Jewish Democrats who have been supporting Lieberman is whether they will stick with him through the primary voting, throw in their lot with another candidate or support the frontrunner, Dean — who, despite his relatively moderate record as Vermont’s governor, has propelled himself forward by capturing the party’s left flank. Given the lurch of the party leftward, many hawkish Jews, including a few communal leaders, have said they will support President Bush, especially because of his stances on Israel.
One figure who represents a certain kind of aging Jewish Democrat, former New York City mayor Edward Koch, told the Forward he is supporting Bush because national security is paramount and “none of the Democrats have the stomach” to prosecute the war on terror.
An avid supporter of Gore during his 1988 presidential run, Koch said Gore’s endorsement of Dean showed he had gone off the deep end with his party. “The Democratic Party has a large radical-left component,” he said. “They demonstrate it in the primaries. Al Gore is now part of it.”
Dean’s national campaign co-chairman, Steve Grossman, a former president of the pro-Israel lobbying powerhouse Aipac, said Bush’s foreign policy stances were indeed attractive to some in the Jewish community, but that is not the whole ballgame.
“The factors driving a wedge between George Bush and the Jewish community are not going to be Middle East policy, but domestic policy, like church-state separation,” Grossman said. “Bush will do better with Jewish voters this time. But I do not believe there will be a fundamental realignment in the Jewish community as some people are predicting. There’s too much extremism and right-wing ideology at the core of the Bush administration for that.”