The US race starts here

Jewish com­mu­nity de­bates which pres­i­den­tial hope­ful best serves its in­ter­ests


WITH FOR­MER first lady Sen­a­tor Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton declar­ing her in­ter­est, the race for the United States 2008 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions is be­com­ing clearer — and so are the choices fac­ing the Amer­i­can Jewish com­mu­nity.

While Jewish or­gan­i­sa­tions are re­frain­ing from tak­ing stands on po­lit­i­cal races, many in the com­mu­nity are al­ready gear­ing up to take an ac­tive part on the cam­paigns of any of the al­most two dozen can­di­dates fielded by both main par­ties. Al­though the es­ti­mated 5.5 mil­lion-strong com­mu­nity makes up a mere two per cent of the pop­u­la­tion, Amer­i­can Jews are known for their high turnout rate at the bal­lots and play an im­por­tant role in rais­ing funds for po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates. Ex­act fig­ures are not avail­able, but po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts es­ti­mate that Jews are re­spon­si­ble for at least 50 per cent of the Democrats’ cam­paign money and more than a quar­ter of the money which is raised for Repub­li­can can­di­dates.

More than half of Amer­i­can Jews de­fine them­selves as Democrats, a quar­ter as In­de­pen­dents and the rest as Repub­li­cans. As such, the Demo­cratic can­di­date list is of spe­cial in­ter­est. “Based on the last elec­tions, when 87 per cent of the Jews voted for Demo­cratic can­di­dates, and on Bush’s dis­mal ap­proval rat­ings, the whole coun­try is look­ing much more to­wards the Democrats than the Repub­li­can can­di­dates,” says Demo­cratic con­sul­tant Matt Dorf.

Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton is a familiar face in Jewish Amer­ica and en­joys great sup­port from Jewish ac­tivists. As a sen­a­tor rep­re­sent­ing the state of New York — with two mil­lion Jews, the largest com­mu­nity in the US — Mrs Clin­ton has es­tab­lished sig­nif­i­cant re­la­tions with Jewish vot­ers and donors and would prob­a­bly be Amer­i­can Jewry’s first choice. The for­mer first lady holds strong cre­den­tials on is­sues re­lat­ing to Is­rael and global se­cu­rity and is con­sid­ered a cen­trist. In her years at the White House and in the Se­nate, she led pro-Is­rael leg­is­la­tion ef­forts, among them the drive to have the Is­raeli Ma­gen David Adom ac­cepted into the In­ter­na­tional Red Cross.

At present, the main chal­lenger Mrs Clin­ton faces is Illi­nois Sen­a­tor Barack Obama, a first-term politi­cian. He is pop­u­lar within the party and among young vot­ers due to his per­sonal charisma and the non-po­lit­i­cal agenda he is of­fer­ing.

Jewish lead­ers are scram­bling to learn more about Mr Obama’s views on for­eign pol­icy. A staunch critic of the Iraq war, he has ex­pressed main­stream views on other Mid­dle East is­sues and last sum­mer sup­ported a res­o­lu­tion back­ing Is­rael dur­ing the Le­banon war. Mr Obama was born to a Mus­lim fa­ther but grew up as a Chris­tian, and Jewish ac­tivists have been im­pressed by his at­tempts to reach out to the com­mu­nity.

Other pos­si­ble Demo­cratic can­di­dates — among them John Ed­wards, Bill Richard­son, Al Gore and John Kerry — are also viewed pos­i­tively.

“All the ma­jor an­nounced can­di­dates have long-stand­ing good re­la­tions with the Jewish com­mu­nity and the Jewish vot­ers,” says Mr Dorf. “No one has emerged yet as a leader among the Jewish vot­ers.”

On the Repub­li­can side, pro-Is­rael ac­tivists point out that both lead­ing pos­si­ble can­di­dates — Sen­a­tor John McCain and for­mer New York mayor Rudy Gi­u­liani — have a very strong record on Is­rael. Mr McCain, who spent five years as a pris­oner-of-war in Viet­nam, is a for­eign-af­fairs hawk who is now call­ing for a fur­ther in­crease of forces in Iraq and a tough line to­ward Iran. Mr Gi­u­liani, whose term as mayor was shaped by the 9/11 at­tacks, is seen as one who can un­der­stand the is­sue of Pales­tinian ter­ror.

On do­mes­tic is­sues, Jewish vot­ers tend to sup­port Democrats more than Repub­li­cans, mainly due to their sup­port of civil rights and so­cial leg­is­la­tion. Re­cent years have shown a very slight ten­dency among Amer­i­can Jews to favour a Repub­li­can can­di­date if stronger than the Demo­crat al­ter­na­tive on is­sues re­lat­ing to Is­rael’s se­cu­rity and well­be­ing.

Demo­cratic hope­fuls: Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton (left) with lead­er­ship ri­val Barack Obama

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