- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Joe Lieberman, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination for 2004, isn’t breaking any records for collecting campaign contributions from fellow Jews. Some of them argue this isn’t the right time for a Jewish candidate.

Potential Jewish donors fear a Jewish president could stir up anti-Semitism in the middle of the war on terrorism and the military occupation of Iraq, Jews in both parties say.

“To be Jewish is to sometimes feel insecure in the world,” says Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based Democratic presidential-campaign consultant.

In theory, the senior senator from Connecticut has a lot going for him as the only Jew among the nine Democrats in the intensifying hunt for the 2004 nomination.

But some of his co-religionists also say Jewish donors feel drawn to President Bush, who is turning out to be the best friend Israel has ever had in the Oval Office.

“The smart political money in the Jewish community right now is sitting on the sidelines or supporting the president,” says Lee Cowen, a Washington-based Jewish fund-raiser.

“Joe Lieberman has one problem: George W. Bush,” says Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican. “Bush is the strongest president on U.S.-Israel relationships we’ve ever had.”

Mr. Cantor, chief deputy Republican whip, says Mr. Bush “is more committed to Israel as a Jewish state than any other president.”

“That is fundamental when it comes to Jewish voting patterns for 2004,” he said.

Mr. Cantor, who is Jewish and was elected from a district that is only 1 percent Jewish, said: “At the end of the day, Jews are coming to realize they can’t afford to be Democrats.”

Perhaps, but Republicans have been making empty predictions about winning the Jewish vote for 80 years. Warren G. Harding was the last Republican to pull a majority of the Jewish vote. That was in 1920. Ronald Reagan won 39 percent of the Jewish vote in 1984.

More typical was 1992, when a dismal 11 percent of the Jewish vote went to the first President Bush. His son has embraced Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, ousted Israeli nemesis Saddam Hussein from Iraq, and visited the World War II concentration camp at Auschwitz.

As a Texas Republican and born-again Christian, Mr. Bush embodies a combination not usually the first choice of Jewish voters. By contrast, Mr. Lieberman is an Orthodox Jew and, like most Jewish voters and donors, a Democrat. Jewish Democrats have the historic chance to help make Mr. Lieberman the first Jewish presidential nominee in either party and perhaps the first Jewish president.

Yet, Mr. Lieberman, though well-known nationally as Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, estimated Wednesday that on the official reporting date of July 15, his campaign will tell the Federal Election Commission that he has raised only something more than $5 million from April through June of this year.

That would be considerably less than Howard Dean, the liberal former Vermont governor, raised over the same period. And preliminary estimates by campaign officials for the nine top Democratic hopefuls indicate the July 15 FEC report could show Mr. Lieberman ranking as low as No. 4 in fund raising.

That is remarkable, given that, in the 2000 popular vote, Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Gore outpolled the Republican ticket by more than 500,000 votes. Mr. Lieberman is considered far less liberal than Mr. Dean — and thus more electable in a general election.

But this time, Mr. Lieberman wants to head the ticket, at a time when Arabs, Muslims and some U.S. allies abroad are criticizing the Bush administration as pandering to the Jewish vote.

That is one reason why lifelong Jewish Democrat and San Diego businessman Alan Viterbi told the Financial Times that Mr. Lieberman is a hard sell when it comes to getting Jews to contribute.

Past Jewish Democratic donors to Mr. Lieberman have responded to Mr. Viterbi’s fund-raising calls, he said, by asking themselves: “Is this really a good time to elect a Jewish president? We don’t want to draw attention to the fact that we are full members of society.”

Other Jewish fund-raisers say the Jewish community is “incredibly loyal” to any officeholder who has made the concerns of the Jewish community his utmost priority.

“Right now, Israel is first and foremost in the minds of American Jews because its very survival is at stake,” says Mr. Cowen, who helped Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, raise money from Jewish donors last year. “That loyalty and concern for Israel transcends partisan politics.”

Jewish Republicans and some Democrats are catching whiffs of a trend toward the Republican Party. A Jewish Republican, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, won an upset Senate victory in Minnesota over better-known Democrat Walter F. Mondale last year.

In the Maryland governor’s race last year, Mr. Ehrlich won majorities of some traditionally Democratic western suburbs of Baltimore with large Jewish constituencies. Republican Gov. George E. Pataki did well among Jews in his re-election in New York; Mr. Sheinkopf, the Jewish consultant, called that a tectonic shift. And Gov. Jeb Bush did well with Florida Jews.

Led by Republicans, the House leadership is the most vigorously pro-Israel in recent memory.

“[Majority Leader] Tom DeLay [of Texas], Roy Blunt [of Missouri] and Mr. Cantor have really worked above and beyond the call of duty on Israel’s behalf,” Mr. Cowen says. “Republicans absolutely are doing better with Jews, in part because of Bush’s position on Israel. He is by far the most pro-Israel president we have had, period.”

That is a claim that neither Mr. Lieberman nor his supporters can make. Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, says that in the last two weeks of fund-raising events by Mr. Bush, in communities like Los Angeles, New York, Washington and Miami, there has been “significant and highly visible participation by the Jewish community.”

“In at least three of those events, the invocations were done by local rabbis,” Mr. Brooks notes.

While Mr. Lieberman has raised a total of about $8 million so far, Mr. Bush has raised at least $34.2 million — including about $22 million at fund-raisers in the past two weeks.

How many of those donations were from Jewish donors and how many might have normally gone to Mr. Lieberman or some other Democrat, Mr. Brooks declined to speculate.

“We’re happy with the support Senator Lieberman is getting from the Jewish community,” says Lieberman campaign spokesman Jano Cabrera, adding that the campaign had never regarded the Jewish vote as monolithic or belonging to one candidate because he happens to be Jewish.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide