November 15, 2007
Handicapping the 2008 Presidential Race
(Page 2 - Previous Page)If Clinton is holding the right flank of the party and John Edwards the left, you might say that Obama is running from above. You might almost call Obama's campaign the "Jewish" campaign, since it is the approach that has often appealed to educated Jewish primary voters, going all the way back to Adlai Stevenson and, as Brownstein notes, can be traced through to Gary Hart in 1984 and Bill Bradley in 2000.
The political process itself must be fixed, Obama says. We must end the culture wars. We must make hard choices about Social Security. Obama clearly has star quality. He has managed to break into some of the mainstream Jewish leadership that Clinton had hoped to monopolize, including in the Hollywood community where he has had major fundraisers. He has been to Clinton's left on foreign policy, particularly regarding Iraq and Iran.
Edwards has moved from being the Southern moderate who could balance Democratic tickets to the liberal end of the top tier. His "two Americas" theme appeals to those who believe that the Democrats should embrace a more liberal economic program. He is the only viable candidate who appeals to the most progressive Jewish voters on these economic issues.
Even more than Obama, though, Edwards suffers from the problem that on closer examination his strategy may not add up to victory. Which America is the Jewish voter, for instance, supposed to be in? Can you build a majority out of those who feel sympathetic to those in the "other" America, or conversely, can you convince a majority that they are in the "other" America?
Hovering on the sidelines, Gore might still ride to the party's "rescue." He has gone from wronged presidential candidate to world-class celebrity. Gore has a deep base in Hollywood, with its strong Jewish core, and he could mount a dynamic challenge to Clinton from the left. An Oscar and Nobel Prize winner? He would most likely pick up much of the Jewish party base that is not already committed to Clinton and even take some of hers.
As the leading environmental spokesman in the world, Gore would quickly be able to mark himself as the change candidate, and as the only candidate who could match Clinton in the area of government experience.
A Gore candidacy would deeply split Jewish Democrats and would undoubtedly be a party bloodbath. That might be one reason that Gore has been unwilling so far to enter the race unless Clinton falls back into the pack.
Watch out for third-party candidates. On the right, threats have been made that a pro-life candidate would appear if Guiliani wins the nomination. Popular New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has made noises about running. He is Jewish, hugely popular in his city (more than Guiliani today) and has the funds to cover his own race. In theory, it could be a three-way New Yorker race giving a Jewish cultural tone to the general election. And, one other wild card: With Joe Lieberman drifting so far into the Republican camp on foreign policy, neoconservative Bill Kristol is now publicly calling on the Republican candidates to consider him as their No. 2 on the ticket.
Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton. His column appears here monthly.
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