- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 27, 2003

The war on terrorism and President Bush’s reputation for being a good friend to Israel, Republican strategists hope, might finally curb the trend of the party doing poorly among Jewish voters in presidential elections.

Mr. Bush’s Monday schedule was dominated by Jewish events: a meeting with rabbis and Jewish leaders in the afternoon, lighting the official White House menorah for Hanukkah — the first such event in history, and an official Hanukkah party that night.

“Reaching out to Jewish voters is one of the many things we are doing to help expand our party,” said Heather Layman, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

Whether this outreach will have any political impact in 2004 remains to be seen, but the key to nabbing the Democratic stronghold of New York and the tossup state of Florida may depend on improving the Republican track record with Jewish voters.

Historically, Republican presidential candidates have attracted a small percentage of the Jewish vote, and David Harris, deputy executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, doesn’t see a change on the horizon.

“The long view is that Jews in America have voted overwhelmingly Democratic since the New Deal,” Mr. Harris said. “And every two years and every four years, Republicans say this is the election where it’s going to turn around … but there will be nothing [in 2004] that won’t be what has happened every election in the last 70 years.”

In every year since 1972, when the Voter News Service started tracking the Jewish vote, all but one Democrat — Jimmy Carter in 1980 — won at least 64 percent of the Jewish vote. In 2000, with Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and a devout Jew, on the ticket, Al Gore got 79 percent of the Jewish vote.

According to the book “Jews in American Politics” by Stephen Issacs, Democratic presidential candidates John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Hubert H. Humphrey all received at least 80 percent of the Jewish vote. According to Mr. Issacs’ research, the last Republican to get even a plurality of the Jewish vote was Warren G. Harding in 1920.

Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, however, thinks the trend is due for a reversal.

He points to VNS exit polls in the 2002 election that showed 35 percent generic support for Republicans among Jewish voters. And in the October gubernatorial-recall election in California, 40 percent of Jews voted for a Republican candidate.

“Those things together demonstrate not only the opportunity for this president, but a transition that is already taking place,” Mr. Brooks said.

Mr. Brooks sees the president’s tough stance in the war on terrorism and “unyielding support of Israel’s security at a very difficult time” as the way Mr. Bush will continue to make inroads with Jewish voters.

“The level of strength between the U.S. and Israel has never been stronger, and there has never been a better friend or president [for Israel] than George W. Bush,” Mr. Brooks said, explaining that Mr. Bush does not pressure Israel to “make a deal [with the Palestinians] that compromises Israel’s security.”

A source close to the Bush-Cheney re-election team, who spoke on background, said he “wouldn’t make predictions,” but he also sees the president doing better among Jewish voters in 2004 than the 19 percent he got in 2000.

The 35 percent of Jews who voted for Republican candidates in 2002 “was historic for an off-year election,” the source said, and Republican Robert L. Erhlich Jr. won the Jewish vote in the Baltimore area in his successful race for governor of Maryland in 2002.

David Horowitz, president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture and a radical-turned-conservative, said “there will be significantly more Jews in the Republican column” next year, especially if former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean — who has called for an “evenhanded” stance between Israel and the Palestinians — is the Democratic nominee.

But Republicans have a hard time with Jews because the Republican Party is still seen as a “patrician WASP party,” Mr. Horowitz said. And even though the “religious right is the best friend Israel has” in the United States, he said, conservative Christians unnerve many Jews.

Mr. Bush might trump this fear by continuing to wage an aggressive war on terror.

“He’s been a pretty powerful leader in the war on terror, as opposed to the Democrats, who want the anti-Semites in the [United Nations] to run U.S. foreign policy,” Mr. Horowitz said.

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