The Big Winners

More than just a victory for California Democrats, Tuesday’s election has special meaning for the Jewish community.

Gray Davis

Jews made up 4 percent of the California voter rolls this week (compared with 3 percent nationally), and Davis got 84 percent of that support in his decisive victory over Republican Dan Lungren in the race for governor. This figure, equaled only by the lieutenant governor’s vote among blacks, is astounding: According to MSNBC exit polls, Davis garnered only 43 percent of the Protestant vote, 61 percent from Catholics, 53 percent from “other Christians” and 72 percent from those without any religious preference. Latinos, the group most likely to equate Davis’ opponent with the widely disliked outgoing Gov. Pete Wilson, favored Davis 3-to-1, as did gays and lesbians.

Cynics may say the disproportionately outsized Jewish vote is a knee-jerk return to the politics of liberalism, an exercise in nostalgia, but that would be a mistake. The political terrain has changed dramatically in the 16 years since Jerry Brown, the last Democratic governor, led Sacramento. Jews and their liberalism have changed, too, as the Davis vote reflects.

1) Rejecting the politics of polarization. At the Biltmore Hotel, Davis’ headquarters on Tuesday evening, Jewish community activists stood cheek by jowl with Latinos, blacks, Asians and other Anglos. It was a huge relief to celebrate in mixed company, and a striking reminder of how divisive the Wilson years have been. Ballot propositions on affirmative action, bilingual education and immigrant rights each set back the cause of ethnic harmony throughout the state. Jews paid the price, as ethnic minorities spurned our friendship and regarded us with suspicion. It’s been a humbling experience. Davis’ demeanor may be “Gray,” but his kitchen Cabinet will be multicolored.

2) Rewarding a friend. Lungren was a stranger to the Jewish community; Davis, on the other hand, seems to have been with the Jews since Sinai. As lieutenant governor, assemblyman, Jerry Brown’s chief of staff, Davis has developed strong ties to teachers, unions and women’s groups. Yet he has worked hard to expand his Jewish base to include business interests who were eager for a candidate both fiscally moderate and politically tolerant. Chief among Davis’ backers is real estate macher and Jewish community activist Richard Ziman. Davis’ support in the real estate community reminds us that when the California economy is moving, as it is now, Jews traditionally return to Democratic policies — where they feel at home.

3) Redefining “liberal.” Davis calls himself a “moderate” — pro-death penalty, pro-choice, pro-tolerance. Fine by me. Liberal or moderate, he’s left of moralistic right, where the real threat to Jewish interests lie. Remember, it was the Christian right that targeted two state Supreme Court Justices because they ruled that a teen-ager doesn’t need parental consent for abortion. The justices won, but the threat from moral rectitude continues. Jews are move conservative on crime, but, otherwise, they vote “live and let live.”

Barbara Boxer

The incumbent senator may be one of the most polarizing candidates in California history, but the Democrat is also among the luckiest. Lucky that her opponent, Republican state Treasurer Matt Fong, didn’t know how to maximize her negatives. Lucky that, in the end, Fong’s own image as a “moderate” was tarnished by a $50,000 payment to an ultra-conservative Christian right organization. Lucky that her real opponent was not Fong, but the Republican campaign to impeach the president. A Los Angeles Times exit poll said that 37 percent of Boxer voters were protesting Republicans’ handling of the Lewinsky affair.

Most of all, Boxer was luckiest in her choice of supporters because, in the end, California women voters wised up. Having been caught in the tar-baby of sexual harassment politics, California women didn’t wake up until the last minute to see that Boxer was the one candidate committed to a woman’s right to choose. Choice, not Monica Lewinsky, is the women’s issue that mattered. And if Fong won, we’d get more Monica, and less choice. Sizable numbers of Jewish Republican women saw the light.

Marlene Adler Marks, senior columnist of The Jewish Journal, will host a post-election conversation with Arianna Huffington on Sunday, Nov. 15, at the Skirball Cultural Center.Her e-mail address is