With Jewish support for the Democratic presidential candidates shifting after Monday’s Iowa caucuses, the campaigns are stepping up their outreach to the Jewish communities in New Hampshire and across the country.
Following his rout at the hands of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, former Vermont governor Howard Dean, who in December purportedly had won over the bulk of New Hampshire’s small Jewish population, appeared to be losing some of that support, observers said. Then, too, retired general Wesley Clark and Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman have had New Hampshire to themselves for several weeks because they skipped Iowa.
“Clark has certainly piqued people’s interest,” said the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Manchester, Adam Solender. He said New Hampshire’s Jewish population would be watching closely to see how the candidates fared in a debate there Thursday and whether they would attend a deli dinner and candidates’ breakfast this weekend at Manchester’s Temple Adath Yeshurun. “I’ll be looking to see who shows up,” Solender said.
David Stahl, a retired Manchester dentist who is considered the dean of Jewish political observers in the Granite State, was “leaning toward” Dean in December but wavering the day after the Iowa contest. “After last night, I’m certainly having reservations,” he said. New Hampshire’s primary will be held on Tuesday.
In California, which has the nation’s second-largest Jewish community, Kerry appeared poised to inherit some Jews after Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt’s exit from the race. “A decent chunk of the [Jewish] Gephardt people will move to Kerry,” said Los Angeles-based Democratic strategist Donna Bojarsky, “although Clark may be the beneficiary too. But I think people will wait to see how Clark does in New Hampshire.” California’s vote is not until March 2.
Freed from Iowa, the Kerry campaign, which struggled for months to overcome Dean’s rise, is about to turn more attention to Jews. The campaign had been relying on volunteers, such as Boston-area fundraiser Alan Solomont and Kerry’s brother Cameron Kerry, a convert to Judaism, for outreach.
In Iowa, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported, the Jewish community went overwhelmingly for Kerry because of the work of eight young Kerry staffers. Now, its Iowa caucus director, Jonathan Epstein, who once worked at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, will take on some outreach duties, a campaign source said.
Solomont, meanwhile, is making a bid to win over Lieberman’s voters, telling the Forward that “John Kerry will reflect what our community wants as well as anybody, including Joe Lieberman, if not better.” Solomont said Jews would choose Kerry over other candidates “because he has the foreign policy and national security experience the Jewish community wants because of the precarious situation of Israel and the commitment to fundamental values of fairness and equity.” He reckoned that Kerry is “at least as strong in the Jewish community as Howard Dean and is much stronger than George Bush” and said that Kerry had seen a “spike” in contributions since he started his Iowa climb.
Clark, whose campaign has been making hay for months out of the candidate’s paternal Jewish roots, is scheduling more events for its outreach operation, which a rival campaign called “aggressive.” The campaign is setting up a “Jewish advisory council” led by a prominent rabbi, author Harold Kushner, according to Clark’s Jewish outreach coordinator, Greg Caplan. Clark’s campaign held a “Jewish house party” in the Granite State last weekend with two Jewish congressmen, Rahm Emmanuel of Illinois and Anthony Weiner of New York, and a series of such parties around the country Wednesday night. Kushner, author of “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” was to address the Wednesday gathering. The campaign even sent a picture of Clark wearing a yarmulke with one of its Jewish-themed e-mail messages.
Dean’s campaign, which held a house party in Iowa with a Jewish congresswoman, Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, is looking to deploy her and two other Jewish supporters, Reps. Jerrold Nadler of New York and Bob Filner of California, in more campaign trail outreach.
Dean’s Jewish affairs adviser, Matt Dorf, dismissed any reports of slippage in the candidate’s Jewish support. “The Jewish community is with Howard Dean on the entire domestic agenda,” Dorf said. “They’re with him on Israel, too — we just have to combat the misinformation out there.”
That task got harder this week when an AP photographer snapped a picture of Dean wearing a kaffiyeh — an Arab headress — as a scarf. Dorf said the scarf was thrown over Dean’s shoulders by a young supporter, and yanked “after four seconds.”
“He didn’t see it coming,” Dorf said.
Lieberman, for his part, was thumping Jewish themes in a new television advertisement running in New Hampshire. The ad, titled “I Love America,” contains stills from the 2002 documentary “Only in America,” which portrays Lieberman’s career as a tribute to the success of Jewish immigrants. Lieberman stoked his campaign among Jewish audiences early on with showings of the film, a gauzy look at his 2000 vice-presidential run.
Even the Bush campaign was getting into the Jewish-outreach act, holding a meeting in Louisville, Ky., on Monday geared toward the Jewish community with Bush finance chairman Mercer Reynolds.
If the results of the Iowa caucuses revived the campaigns of Kerry and North Carolina Senator John Edwards and showed the unexpected weaknesses of Dean, it meant one thing for the campaign of Lieberman: bad news.
Lieberman, who has camped out in New Hampshire in hopes of jumpstarting his lifeless campaign with a decent third-place showing there, was positioning himself to be the anti-Dean after Iowa. Now, he has competition.
Lieberman “needed the field to narrow more. Quite the opposite happened. Now there are even more viable candidates,” said Democratic strategist Steve Rabinowitz. “I see Lieberman coming in fourth or even fifth in New Hampshire. That will evaporate any residual soft support he has in Arizona, Oklahoma and New Mexico. If Gephardt was the big loser [in Iowa], Lieberman was the silent loser.”
But Lieberman has some consolation: He won the endorsement Monday of the Granite State’s most important newspaper, the conservative Manchester Union Leader, which cited his “conviction” on Iraq and his “independent line on limited school vouchers, tax cuts, and on the filth that passes for Hollywood entertainment.”
Whether that will help remains to be seen. A state tracking poll showed his support dropping to 7% from 10% last week, although a campaign source insisted Monday that it was in the “low double-digits.”
This story "CAMPAIGN CONFIDENTIAL" was written by E.J. Kessler.