Where Will Backers of Lieberman Go?

The withdrawal of Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) has left many Jewish fundraisers and donors without a candidate and has sparked a new round of fundraising calls and solicitations.

Much of the discussion focuses on Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who has emerged as the front-runner after the first round of caucuses and primaries. Like Lieberman, Kerry is a political veteran who has cultivated deep ties with the Jewish community both in and out of his home state.

However, there is talk that some pro-Israel backers will look to Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), a relative newcomer to the political scene, believing that he would take a more pro-Israel stance. There also is some speculation that Lieberman backers, supportive of some of the lawmaker’s more conservative positions, may consider supporting President Bush.

There is no empirical data on the amount of Jewish money in Democratic politics, because the Federal Elections Committee does not ask for a contributor’s religion. By all accounts, however, Jewish donors have played a significant role in bankrolling Democratic operations.

Many of those who backed Lieberman are expected to assess their next moves soon.

"I don’t think all of the Jewish money will go to one of the candidates; it will go to the best candidate based on the individual contributor’s thinking," said Marvin Lender, a member of Lieberman’s campaign board, who raised funds in the Jewish community. "I think that Jews are not single-issue voters and continuously will look for the best candidate."

Many of the major political players in Democratic politics, including prominent Jews, gave large donations to Lieberman and other candidates. Others have given small donations to numerous hopefuls and may now choose one candidate to whom they will give the maximum donation.

Under new campaign finance laws, donors can give up to $2,000 to a single candidate and up to $37,500 total for candidates for president, the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Lonnie Kaplan, a Lieberman fundraiser in New Jersey and past president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), suggested that many of Lieberman’s backers would pause before backing another candidate.

"People will look at two things: Where do they stand in terms of issues of Israel’s security, and is there still a race?" he said.

Some believe Kerry has the race sewn up. That might lead some Jewish donors, who are pragmatic and want to be part of a winning team, to give to him, but others may feel their donations are therefore less necessary.

Alan Solomont, a fundraiser for Kerry in the Jewish community, said there would not be a specific push for Jewish money right now, but that the campaign would continue to make inroads in the community.

Some supporters of Israel say Kerry has a solid voting record on Mideast issues, but there are lingering concerns that as president, he might pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians, as former President Bill Clinton did.

That’s likely to throw some support toward Edwards, who placed well in Iowa and may get a bounce from his victory Tuesday in South Carolina. Lender said that Gen. Wesley Clark — who has Jewish roots — may find that it helps him raise Jewish money, though his campaign is struggling.

Little of the Lieberman support is expected to go to former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. Dean had poor showings in both Iowa and New Hampshire and has been hurt in the Jewish community by e-mails highlighting misstatements advocating a more "even-handed" U.S. policy between Israel and the Palestinians. In addition, Lieberman campaigned as the anti-Dean candidate, and it’s unlikely that many of his supporters would make such a dramatic shift of allegiance.

However, Steve Grossman, the national co-chairman of the Dean campaign and a former AIPAC president and Democratic National Committee chairman, said he believes damage control efforts following the e-mail campaign could result in new Jewish donations, if Dean regains momentum in the next two weeks.

"There will be a considerable number of fundraisers who are Jewish, particularly those who have been close to Al Gore, who very much like and respect what Howard Dean has done to energize the Democratic Party," Grossman said. "Those people will take a hard look at Howard Dean but will want to see the Dean campaign regain momentum from a political standpoint between now and the Wisconsin primary on Feb. 17."

Kaplan, the Lieberman fundraiser, said he believed some backers would give a second look to Bush, rather than support a different Democratic challenger.

"After the Democrats have nominated a candidate, people in the Jewish community will look at the two candidates," Kaplan said. "Many Democrats who are Joe Lieberman supporters will compare the nominee to President Bush."

But Solomont said he believed that most of Lieberman’s backers would stay in the Democratic Party.

"Jewish Democrats, although they have a relationship with Joe Lieberman, have a more strongly held desire to defeat George W. Bush," he said.