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Jewish Journal

California Jewish voters maintain liberal reputation

by Tom Tugend

November 16, 2006 | 7:00 pm

California's Jewish voters upheld their liberal reputation in the Nov. 7 election, despite a strong effort by the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) to focus on the Bush administration's pro-Israel record.

While Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger won reelection by nearly 55 percent of the popular vote, 52 percent of the Jewish ballots went to his Democratic opponent Phil Angelides, according to Los Angeles Times polling director Susan Pinkus. Even in races in which Jewish votes aligned with the majority, the Jewish margin of support was much higher.

Democrat John Garamendi won the lieutenant governor's race by garnering 49.5 percent of the total vote, but he received 74 percent of the Jewish vote. Similarly, Democrat Jerry Brown was elected attorney general with 56.7 percent of the vote, but was supported by 75 percent of Jews.

Statewide propositions 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D and 1E, authorizing multibillion dollar bonds to upgrade California's infrastructure, transportation, housing availability, schools and levees, all passed, but Jewish support ran 10 percent to 16 percent higher than in the general population.

Two controversial and heavily funded propositions went down to defeat, but would have won easily if only Jewish ballots had been counted.

Proposition 86, which would have levied a stiff tax on cigarettes to fund new health programs, lost by 4 points, but won by 14 points among Jews.

Similarly, Proposition 87, which would have imposed taxes on California oil producers to fund alternative energy research, was defeated, winning support from only 45 percent of the overall voter. Sixty-two percent of Jewish voters supported the measure.

Jews constituted 5 percent of total votes, almost double their percentage of the California population, according to the Los Angeles Times poll released Thursday.

GOP supporters found some cheer in the election of Steve Poizner, a Jewish businessman from Los Altos, who beat Democrat Cruz Bustamante 51:39 in the race for California insurance commissioner. Poizner serves on the presidents' council of the national Republican Jewish Coalition, said Larry Greenfield, the RJC's California director.

The Times did not poll voters by religion in this contest. Political scientist and Jewish Journal columnist Raphael Sonnenshein of Cal State Fullerton termed the national election results "the most colossal wave of change going back to 1980."

California was somewhat insulated from the political tsunami, thanks largely to the tone of Republican moderation set by Schwarzenegger, Sonnenshein said. He believes that Jewish Republicans made a mistake by assuming that Jewish voters were motivated solely by the Israel issue. "That was never true," he said.

Andrew Lachman, president of Democrats for Israel-Los Angeles, said that both local and national results showed that Jews supported the Democratic Party more strongly than ever. "Surveys have shown that 70 percent of American Jews oppose the war in Iraq, and I believe that the Bush policy has made Israel less secure," he said.

Local Jewish Republicans were less than happy with the election results but preferred to take the long view.

Winning Jews over to the Republican side "is a lengthy educational process," said Bruce Bialosky, who founded California's RJC in 2001. "The younger generation is more open to joining us than older Jews, who have a lifelong commitment to the Democratic Party," he said.

Bialosky defended the effectiveness of the full-page ads that RJC placed in Jewish publications in major cities, which triggered resentment from Democrats by portraying them as not supportive of Israel.

According to figures from the national RJC, he said, 35 percent of Jews supported Republicans in cities where the ads ran, compared to only 26.4 percent in cities without ads. These numbers have been questioned by Democratic analysts.

Dr. Joel Strom, immediate past president of the RJC's Los Angeles chapter, was skeptical of the accuracy of polls on Jewish voting patterns, saying that most did not include the generally more conservative absentee ballots.

Strom agreed that large-scale changes in political loyalties are "a generational thing and perhaps we cannot expect a reversal in our lifetime."

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