March 9, 2000
The New Jewish “Vote” ?
Joel Grishaver receives Covenant Award for national service
The Super Tuesday election inspires these thoughts on what constitutes "The Jewish vote."
It's no secret that Jewish voters are turned off to Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Now we know how turned off they are.
Exit polling by the Field organization reported the voter breakdown among Jews (who represented a mere 5 percent of the California electorate) as follows:
Vice President Al Gore: 47 percent.
Former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley: 23 percent.
Arizona Senator John McCain: 21 percent.
Bush: 4 percent.
Four percent for the governor is a huge rejection for the presumptive Republican nominee, and a bad omen for November. The number is far below the estimated 12&'173;15 percent of Jews now regarded as hard-core Republican, and which most middle-of-the-road GOP candidates have come to rely upon. Bush père and Bob Dole enjoyed this low-grade support and you know where it got them.
It wasn't that Bush hasn't been trying. On the Friday before Super Tuesday, former Secretary of State George Shultz vouched for his candidate's pro-Israel bona fides in a conference call for Jewish journalists. On Monday, Bush himself went to the Simon Wiesenthal Center where he made a plea for ethnic and religious tolerance. None of it helped.
Though the Bush campaign has bogged down over support by Bob Jones University and the Christian Right, it was never intended that way. There are Jews visible in every department of the Bush campaign, especially finance. Karl Rove, the Bush chief strategist, said last fall that his plan would be based on the golden (rather than iron) triangle of Latinos, Catholics and "suburban" voters, suburban constituting a kindly euphemism for the stable middle class, including Jews. It's an open question if Jews are receptive to a Bush message if he moves back toward the political center.
As it is, John McCain's Jewish vote was nothing to write home about, 2 percent less than McCain's support (21 vs. 23) among voters at large. He courted Jews relentlessly, but his overreaction to the Bob Jones University incident, his evidence of Bush's supposed anti-Catholicism, backfired. In the end, Catholics went for Bush, and Jewish independents either went for Bradley or back to the safety net of Al Gore.
Members of the pro-Israel Republican crowd, like Rosalie Zalis, were at McCain's early private "victory party" at the Beverly Hilton Hotel Tuesday evening, but there was nothing to celebrate.
Could Zalis support Bush? "I think Al Gore's got people around him who are more dedicated to what's good for Israel," she said by way of an answer. "And I like Tipper Gore."
While the Jewish vote had real integrity on the national election, state and local races were another matter. Looking at a host of Tuesday's races, it's hard not to see, again, that we are a people whose influence changes with the occasion.
Take the astounding upset victory of State Senator Hilda Solis (D-El Monte) over incumbent Congressman Matthew Martinez (D-Alhambra) in the 31st District. Martinez was one of the first Latinos to win support from Congressmen Howard Berman and Henry Waxman about a decade ago, as Berman-Waxman, forging a new progressive politics, brought in the most progressive ethnic representatives they could find. Times change. Today, Solis has the respect and money from Jewish backers, and Martinez, deemed an ineffectual placeholder, is out the door.
I spent a good part of Tuesday evening at the victory celebration for Assemblymember Sheila Kuehl, who handily defeated Assemblymember Wally Knox for the State Senate seat vacated by Tom Hayden. Though observers kept calling this a squeaker, Kuehl won 50:29 percent.
The Victorian on Main Street was filled with Kuehl supporters: women, gays and lesbians, health care and education reformers, environmentalists and just plain voters who appreciated a new park in Encino. Many of them were Jews.
"I've been more than a good vote. I've been a leader," Kuehl told me. This is undoubtedly so. She'll be a terrific senator from a district that includes about two-thirds of the readers of this paper.
But this begs a question. At some point in this campaign, the Knox/Kuehl race had some parts of the community debating who was "better" on Jewish issues and consequently for the Jewish community.
Wally Knox, to give credit where it's due, did a great job representing the institutional interests of the Jewish community, pushing through legislation, for example, giving assistance to Holocaust survivors in their insurance claims. It was good work, even if it wasn't a great vote-getter. I predict he'll have a job in Sacramento, or Washington, soon enough.
Finally, West Hollywood City Councilmember Paul Koretz defeated Amanda Susskind by 3 percent for the West Los Angeles Assembly seat vacated by Knox through term limits.
Koretz ran for the 42nd seat eight years ago, coming in second after Knox in a field of five. Koretz had the support of every major political insider, including Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Governor Gray Davis, and a solid history of success, including helping West Hollywood outlaw small handguns. He'll serve the district well.
As for Susskind, her loss will one day lead to gain. Susskind, an energetic, experienced city attorney, came far with no name ID and no institutional support. She'll run again, and win.
Marlene Adler Marks is senior columnist of The Jewish Journal.
Her website is www.marleneadlermarks.com.