As voters across the country head to the polls today, Senator Hillary Clinton is counting on Jewish friends in Brooklyn to help bring her to victory in her home state of New York.
The past week has seen a flurry of political activity in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods such as Williamsburg and Borough Park, as community leaders and the Clinton campaign have mounted a final push to turn out residents. On Sunday, a parade of Clinton’s political backers — including Reps. Jerrold Nadler, Steve Israel and Anthony Weiner — walked through the neighborhoods shaking hands and passing out fliers. Over the past week, a dozen community leaders have run a full-page advertisement supporting the senator in the city’s two largest Orthodox newspapers.
Twenty-four states are holding presidential primary contests today, including New York, New Jersey, California and Illinois. The contests are expected to be closely fought across the country, with Clinton and her rival for the nomination, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, now in a statistical dead heat nationally. More locally, Clinton has seen her once double-digit lead in New Jersey dwindle to just five points, while her margin in New York has also dropped, to 15 points. Because delegates to the Democrats’ nominating convention are awarded in proportion to vote share, Obama could pick up critical support in both states, even if he does not win them outright.
In Brooklyn, the battle for votes could be particularly fierce, with the borough’s African-American residents expected to turn out in force for Obama, and the borough’s other ethnic communities more likely to break in favor of Clinton. The Orthodox Jewish community is a wild card because, while the bulk of the community is registered Democratic and would almost certainly back Clinton at the polls, they have trended heavily toward Republicans in recent elections and may not turn out to vote.
“Honestly, this year you don’t know anything,” said Yitzchok Fleischer, who works as a Jewish liaison for New York State Senator Diane Savino and organized the recent advertisements on behalf of Clinton. “Most of them are very conservative, so a lot of people will vote Republican… possibly wait for November.”
In recent days, more than a dozen community leaders have signed an advertisement, proclaiming “The Greater Jewish Orthodox Community in Brooklyn endorses Hillary Clinton,” that has run in Orthodox newspapers including Der Blatt and Hamodia. Other supporters, including fundraiser Benjamin Ringel, have sent out mass e-mails encouraging the community to turn out for Clinton.
On his Saturday night radio show, Democratic State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, whose district includes Borough Park, did not explicitly endorse Clinton, even while denigrating her rival.
“Obama looks nice, sounds nice, but let’s not fall into a trap,” Hikind said, adding that Baptist minister and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee was his favorite candidate on the Republican side.