When Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Joe Lieberman made an April visit to Newport Beach, Orange County's most Republican stronghold, he found an attentive group of about 100 people at a $1,000-a-person fundraiser at the private Pacific Club.
With the first presidential primary eight months away, Lieberman currently trails the three other Democratic candidates in fundraising. At least two more visits are planned in private homes late in May and in early June, said Rabbi Arnold Rachlis, of Irvine's University Synagogue, part of the organizing group.
"He doesn't want to be the first Jewish president," said Jerry Neitlich, of Irvine, a boyhood Lieberman friend and another organizer. "He wants to be [a] president, who happens to be Jewish."
Self-doubting Jews who think Lieberman's religion makes him unelectable disturb Rachlis.
"Why are Jews so timid and defensive?" he said. "Most Americans aren't determining their vote because someone isn't Jewish."
The candidate came to Orange County in a swing through California last month, where he also opened a Los Angeles campaign office and made stops at fundraising events in Silicon Valley.
Among those who attended the local event were Roger Johnson, a Republican member of the Clinton cabinet and former chief executive of Western Digital; Mel Levine, a former House member; Bob Hertzberg, former California's assembly speaker; and Gary Hunt, a former Irvine Company lobbyist and public affairs consultant.