Arizona Senator John McCain has scored an early victory in the battle between GOP presidential frontrunners by locking up support from several New York-area Republican moneymen also coveted by his northeastern rival, former Big Apple mayor Rudy Giuliani.
McCain’s stable of national finance co-chairs includes Lewis Eisenberg, a multimillionaire financier from Rumson, N.J. who previously served as finance chairman for the Republican National Committee and was a key fundraiser for former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman.
According to a 140-page memo leaked to the New York Daily News and published earlier this week, Eisenberg’s name — along with that of fellow Jewish financier and McCain supporter Henry Kravis — was originally included on a “prospective leadership” list drafted by the Giuliani campaign.
The disclosure of the former mayor’s campaign plan — which acknowledges the concern that Giuliani might “drop out of [the] race” due to potentially “insurmountable” personal and political vulnerabilities — has underscored his scramble for some of the same deep-pocketed donors recruited by McCain.
The New York-area Republicans are “moderate in their approach to things — they are not big radical ideologues [so] who are these guys going to go to? Either they go to Giuliani or they go to McCain,” said David Twersky, director of international affairs for the American Jewish Congress. Twersky, a longtime observer of Garden State affairs and former editor of the New Jersey Jewish News, added, “This is a very good sign for McCain, that he is getting Republican establishment moderates.”
A year before the GOP’s presidential primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire, the party’s field of contenders is still taking shape: McCain and Giuliani are the first two candidates to have officially established presidential exploratory committees — which allow them to raise and spend money in pursuit of the 2008 nomination — while outgoing Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was expected this week to file his papers. Other Republican hopefuls include Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter of California.
A spokesperson for Giuliani, Sunny Mindel, declined to comment on this week’s memo leak, which she described to the Daily News as “suspicious activity.” According to the newspaper’s report, the document was passed on by a source sympathetic to one of Giuliani’s opponents. It was allegedly left behind during one of the former mayor’s campaign trips last fall.
The incident is not the first time in recent weeks that the Giuliani camp has seemed to come up short against McCain: Hours before the former mayor’s first major New York fundraiser, held last month on December 19, the senator’s team released a 57-member New York-area finance committee list — the campaign’s only announcement of regional supporters thus far.
McCain’s heavily Jewish finance committee includes Kravis; Mark Broxmeyer, a Long Island real estate magnate; Dr. Ben Chouake, president of the New Jersey-based pro-Israel political action committee Norpac, and Barbara Sobel, whose husband, entrepreneur Clifford Sobel, is a major GOP fundraiser who was appointed by President Bush as ambassador to the Netherlands and later Brazil.
According to Chouake, members of the New York-area finance committee have pledged to raise a minimum of $50,000 each. He said that he personally had approached the campaign with an offer of support, based on his concern about the situation in the Middle East. “The 800-pound gorilla in the room right now is Iran,” Chouake told the Forward. “You have the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who represents the first country in the world to openly state, ‘We intend to get nuclear weapons, and we intend to commit genocide.’ This is an immense threat to the United States, and this is an immense threat to Israel. So who are you going to support?… For me, the person that is the most capable, most experienced, most courageous to defend our country, would be John McCain.”
For years, McCain, who has been calling for more American troops to be sent to Iraq, has developed strong ties with neoconservatives in Washington, sharing their hawkish voices on several key fronts.
In recent weeks, McCain has been signaling that an attention to Jewish issues will remain on his agenda as his campaign moves forward.
On the staffing front, the Arizona senator has recruited Jay Zeidman — former White House liaison to the Jewish community — to help with finance and fundraising operations as well as with Jewish outreach. Zeidman’s father is Houston Republican Fred Zeidman, who is chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and one of Bush’s closest donors. According to two Republican sources, the senior Zeidman has not ruled out throwing his weight behind Romney.
“I think a lot of the smart money is going to go Mitt’s way, because they feel that Giuliani is unelectable and McCain is going to have some type of problem — he’ll stumble, [or] his age [will be an issue]… and people don’t trust him ideologically,” one Republican operative said.
In a December 10 address at Yeshiva University, McCain said that withdrawing American troops from Iraq precipitously “is to risk catastrophe,” leading to the possibility of a failed state in a strategic region. He also defended America’s larger strategy of promoting democracy in the Middle East. Two days later, the senator traveled to Israel as part of weeklong trip to the region that also included stops in Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
While in the Jewish state, McCain’s delegation — which also included Senators Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham, John Thune, Mark Kirk and Joseph Lieberman — met with a number of political leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
While insisting that the heavy representation of Jews among McCain boosters is not based on a “religious thing,” exploratory committee spokesman Craig Goldman embraced the suggestion that the list reflects well on the senator’s campaign.
“We are honored and thrilled” to have their support, Goldman said, adding that McCain “is by far [the] frontrunner for the president of the United States. They believe in his message, they believe in what he says and what he believes in, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s a strong supporter of Israel, as well.”
McCain Lines Up N.Y. Money Men, Raising Pressure on Rudy Giuliani