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Jewish Journal

Life After New Hampshire

by Matthew E. Berger

January 29, 2004 | 7:00 pm

Now that the race for the Democratic nomination for president is moving south and west, Jewish scrutiny of the candidates is likely to intensify.

Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass.), who won New Hampshire with a healthy margin, was propelled forward with his second win in two weeks. He has enjoyed solid Jewish support until now -- he won most Jewish votes in Iowa last week -- and that support is likely to increase. So, too, is scrutiny of his policy positions.

History's first viable Jewish candidate for president, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), is heading for a test he has said will make him or break him. Lieberman, who came in at fifth in New Hampshire, says he needs to win at least one of the seven primary and caucus states by Feb. 3 in order to stay in the game.

Lieberman captured 9 percent of the vote in the election season's first official primary. Kerry won Tuesday's primary with 38 percent of the vote. Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor who was once the New Hampshire front-runner, came in second with 26 percent.

Lieberman had been locked in a tight battle for third place with Gen. Wesley Clark and Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), who each received 12 percent of the vote. An exit poll suggested that among New Hampshire Jews, Kerry, Clark and Lieberman finished in a dead heat. Dean trailed, and Edwards hardly made a showing. Kerry has the distinction of enormous popularity among American Jews and Americans generally. He peppers his speeches with emotive anecdotes tailored to every group he addresses.

That talent won him overwhelming support among Iowa's Jews, who had been thrilled to hear him shout "Am Israel Chai!" at a synagogue event in November. Now his policies will come under closer examination.

He is a solid Israel supporter and supports the isolation of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, but those close to him say he has little patience for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He has emphasized the need to bring Saudi Arabia to account for peddling anti-Semitism.

Steve Rabinowitz, a Washington adviser to Democrats and to the Jewish community, said Kerry is likelier now to attract Jewish money.

"It tends to go to the front-runner anyway, and Kerry is playing well in the community. He's got a history in the community and people are comfortable with him," Rabinowitz said. He predicted Kerry would be the front-runner for Jewish givers, followed by Clark, who has the support of Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D.-Ill.), a top Jewish fundraiser for Bill Clinton in his successful 1992 presidential bid.

Kerry already has significant Jewish backing in his home state. Alan Solomont, a leading philanthropist in the community, is Kerry's top fundraiser in Massachusetts.

"He regards the relationship with Israel as special and in U.S. interests because it is the only democracy in the region," said Solomont, who also is active in the Israel Policy Forum. "At the same time, he believes the United States has a very important role to play in trying to assist Israel in ending the conflict. The current administration is a lot of talk and not a lot of action."

Kerry and Dean both have suggested former President Jimmy Carter -- not especially beloved among U.S. Jews -- as a Middle East envoy. Dean suffered much greater flak, however, because he was the front-runner and had made a number of perceived gaffes about the Arab-Israeli issue.

Lieberman's fifth-place finish Tuesday placed his candidacy on its last leg, though the campaign pledged to fight at least another week, heading south and west. He is banking on the diversity of the states there to allow new voters, especially conservative Democrats, to have a say. The range of those states -- and the shift away from New England, home turf for Kerry and Dean -- means Lieberman can exploit his name recognition from the 2000 vice presidential nomination to get a leg up.

Lieberman told supporters Tuesday that campaign organizers in the seven states with primaries and caucuses next week wanted him to "carry this fight to our states." He said, "The battle goes on with the confidence that I am ready to be the president America needs now."

Among the states going to the polls next week are Arizona, which has 81,500 Jews, and Missouri, which has 62,500 Jews, according to the American Jewish Year Book.

That may not be significant for Lieberman's candidacy, as Jews have shown that they do not necessarily vote for Jews if they find other candidates equally or more favorable. Lieberman campaign officials feel they have the chance to win at least one state outright Feb. 3 -- when South Carolina, New Mexico, North Dakota, Missouri and Delaware also vote. Lieberman currently is leading in the polls in Delaware.

His acknowledgment that he needs to win a state next week is echoed by Democratic National Committee National Chairman Terry McAuliffe, who repeatedly has said that any candidate who has not won a state by that time should drop out.

Lieberman pitched a positive spin on the New Hampshire finish Tuesday, claiming he was in a three-way tie for third place. He had campaigned heavily in New Hampshire, choosing to skip the Iowa caucus and even renting an apartment in New Hampshire's largest city, where he watched the returns Tuesday.

In the days before the primary, Lieberman claimed he would do better than expected, in part because of the state's high number of independents, who can vote in the party primary. After his fifth-place showing, campaign officials turned to next week's contests as the key determinant of Lieberman's viability.

"What's happening now and what's been happening is totally consistent with what we expected," a campaign official said.

For several months, the seven presidential candidates have focused their attention in large part on the Granite State, giving Jews there ample opportunities to gauge the contenders and choose their favorite.

Not that courting the state's 10,000 Jews was a priority.

None of the candidates made an appearance at the annual "Deli Night" Saturday night at Temple Adath Yeshurun in Manchester. The organizers had moved the event a month earlier because of the political season, and even invited President Bush to attend. Bush's father came 12 years ago when he was the incumbent president running for reelection.

The synagogue also had to cancel its traditional breakfast with the candidates on Sunday, two days before Tuesday's primary, because only Gen. Wesley Clark had confirmed an appearance. It was the first time that the event had been canceled in anyone's recollection, local Jews said.

Jews here had other opportunities to see the candidates up close, and like their fellow citizens in New Hampshire, many waited to the last minute before backing a candidate. Many also said they chose the candidate they believed could best defeat President Bush in November. Some Jewish voters said they abandoned a favored contender for one who was more viable to win in November.

Issues also have shifted, as more Jewish voters said rebuilding the economy and providing health care became more important than the war in Iraq. Kerry's surprise victory in last week's Iowa caucuses seemed to help him garner more support in the Jewish community in New Hampshire.

Jews who backed Lieberman insisted their shared religion was not a factor.

"It has nothing to do with the fact that he's Jewish," said Moshe Shpindler, a restaurateur in Manchester who was born in Israel. "He's really straightforward and honest.''

On the Saturday before the primary in Manchester, Shpindler prayed with Lieberman at the home of Manchester's Lubavitch rabbi.

Several Jews who supported other candidates said they had considered Lieberman but didn't think he could win the Democratic nomination or defeat Bush in November.

Adam Solendar, executive director of the Jewish Federation for Greater Manchester, said Tuesday that he had spoken to several Jews who went into the voting booth planning to pick either Dean or Kerry, but then cast their ballot for Lieberman. Solendar said they all decided in the end that they should not exclude Lieberman because he was Jewish, and they determined his views were the closest to theirs.

Ron Kampeas, the JTA bureau chief in Washington, contributed to this report.

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