The Iowa caucuses are Monday night, the first actual voting in what is likely to be a months-long process to determine the Democratic nominee for President of the United States. And while the Jewish population of Iowa isn’t large, it could play a role if the delegate tally is close, as is expected.
Iowa has about 5,450 Jews, making up less than 1% of the state’s population, according to the American Jewish Year Book. The largest Jewish community is in the state’s biggest city, Des Moines, though other population centers include Ames and the Quad Cities region. Most Jews in Iowa, like their peers nationwide, are Democrats and vote at higher proportions than the general population, community leaders told JNS last year.
Polls show that Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is Jewish, is one of the front-runners in Iowa, while the other three candidates with Jewish backgrounds are not a factor in the race. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg declared his candidacy after the Iowa filing deadline, and Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado and businessman Tom Steyer, who don’t identify as Jews but each have a Jewish parent, have focused their attentions on other states.
Sanders, whose support for Palestinians has raised the ire of some pro-Israel groups, has also been at the center of the most visible moment of Jewish-related advocacy in the race so far. The group Democratic Majority for Israel spent nearly $700,000 to broadcast on a television ad attacking him. Sanders capitalized on the moment, raising $1.3 million off an email to supporters referencing the ad, which did not specifically mention Israel.
Activists from the leftist Jewish group IfNotNow have also been on the ground in Iowa as well as New Hampshire, pressing candidates at town halls and other public events to support cutting military aid to Israel or conditioning it on policy toward Palestinians.
But there have also been moments of unity: Both Chabad-Lubavitch of Iowa and the Jewish not-for-profit OneTable have hosted Shabbat dinners in Des Moines for campaign workers and journalists who come from out of state. Chabad-Lubavitch of Iowa also runs a kosher deli — co-director Rabbi Yossi Jacobson told Chabad.org last week that he had recently made 40 sandwiches for a bus of Sanders volunteers looking for kosher food.
And “campaign kippahs” with the Hebrew and English names of various candidates were on sale at the Iowa State Fair.
Still, there’s division among major Jewish Democratic elected officials over who to endorse. Former Vice President Joe Biden has the support of Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, Reps. Brad Schneider of Illinois and Elaine Luria of Virginia, and Mayors Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles and Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has the backing of Reps. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Andy Levin of Michigan, while Sen. Amy Klobuchar is endorsed by two fellow Minnesotans: Rep. Dean Phillips and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. Bloomberg is endorsed by Rep. Max Rose of Staten Island, N.Y., and former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is supported by Austin, Tex., Mayor Steve Adler.
Here’s what’s Jewish about the Iowa caucuses