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Bang the Press Slowly

by Bill Boyarsky

August 5, 2004 | 8:00 pm

"I will concede that conservative Jewish Republicans like myself are in the minority, especially out here on the Left Coast," reader Gillee Sherman e-mailed me. "But we are growing in numbers every day, and this election should see a huge improvement for Bush in the Jewish community."

Maybe she's right, I thought. I was in a receptive mood, grateful for Sherman's e-mail. That is, until I read the next paragraph, where Sherman stuck in the knife: "In conclusion, I would like to see if you will leave behind the left-wing bias that has to be institutionalized at The Times and cover both candidates."

What? Give up the bias that nurtured me -- and fed my family -- through 30 years at the West Coast's most influential center of left-wing thought?

Impossible, Gillee. I'm brainwashed. I've gone through too many liberal indoctrination sessions in The Times employee cafeteria, where I was forced to read the entire collected works of Noam Chomsky, Rabbi Michael Lerner and other left-wing theorists.

I'm kidding. All they served in The Times cafeteria was second-rate food, and nobody made you eat there. And I'd rather have been fired then read the lefty theorists who write in the style of Chairman Mao.

But I understand Sherman's tactics. She was trying to make me feel guilty in hopes that I would write about her Republicans. The game is called "banging the press" and it worked.

I made an appointment to see Larry Greenfield, director of the Republican Jewish Coalition of Southern California, who is working hard to switch the predominantly Democratic Jewish community to the Republican side.

Greenfield, who grew up in Encino and graduated from UC Berkeley, has been with the coalition since March, after working as an attorney, business executive, financial adviser and vice president of the Jewish Community Foundation.

He has a tough job. A recent statewide poll of all Californians by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California has Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) ahead of Bush 49 percent to 38 percent.

But the Republicans have a strategy, heavily influenced by the recall election in which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican moderate, ousted Gray Davis.

"The Republicans are streaking toward the middle," Greenfield told me as we chatted in the coalition office on the seventh floor of a West Los Angeles office building.

He sees Schwarzenegger building a moderate Republican coalition, one that will be more appealing to Jews than the anti-abortion, right wing, prayer-in-the-schools bunch that have been the public face of the California Republican Party for several years.

Recent events give some credence to Greenfield's hopes. The big crowds greeting Schwarzenegger when he campaigned in suburban shopping centers during the budget battle may have scared the Democratic left and the Republican right into falling into line behind him.

California's top Democratic politician, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, sees the danger. Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton reported that she told journalists in Boston, "My greatest fear is that [Kerry strategists] come to the conclusion that we don't have to worry about California. California is a tremendously volatile state. Look at the recall, and you can see how volatile California is ... you lose California, you lose the [presidential] election."

If Feinstein's fears are valid, the predominantly Jewish vote will be an important part of the Republican equation.

To balance out my coverage, that evening, I stopped by an event in Encino sponsored by Valley Democrats United and the Valley West Democratic Clubs. It was a dinner for former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, on a tour promoting his recent book, "The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies That Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity" (Carroll & Graf Publishers).

This was days before Kerry's successful acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. Even so, the substantial crowd of Valley Democrats who had come for cocktails and dinner were deep into the campaign.

Elizabeth Kaipe reported that meet-ups and other social events had been going well. Russ Lynn, president of the Valley West Democrats, said, "Our club has seen a huge increase in membership ... [there is] an enormous sense of frustration that has driven people into our club."

The fact that the audience had turned out and paid $45 per dinner to hear Wilson was a strong indication of disapproval of the Bush foreign policy and of the administration's conduct of the war.

Republicans are charging that skepticism about the war means that Democrats are soft on national security, a charge that will be at the heart of their campaign to win the Jewish vote. The Republican Jewish Coalition's Greenfield said, "The Jewish community has raised concerns about his wing of the party on national security."

In Jewish political dialogue, this is code for being soft on Israel. As Democrat Ed Koch, who doesn't speak in code, charged: The Democrats have a left wing which has "an anti-Israel philosophy, reviling that democratic state which shares the values held by a majority of Americans."

Kerry, whose position on Israel is the same as Bush's, sought at the convention to immunize himself from such attacks and to take the offensive on the national security issue. But he'll be up against such skeptics as my reader, Gillee Sherman, who wrote, "I work in an office where five other Jews beside myself will be voting for Bush, along with my father who was a Democrat for over 40 years."

According to the polls, Sherman's office mates and dad don't add up to enough for Bush in California's Jewish community. But early polls can be misleading in this volatile state.

How many more Jews such as Sherman are out there? The answer to that question could be one of the most interesting political stories of the next three months.

Bill Boyarsky's column on Jews and civic life appears on the first Friday of each month. Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a Metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.

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