Social issues keep Jews from supporting the GOP

In the midst of the never-ending debate about whether this will be the election that moves Jews to the right, an intriguing new poll is just out from the Public Religion

Research Institute. Titled “Chosen for What? Jewish Values in 2012,” it found that 62 percent of Jews want to see President Barack Obama re-elected, compared to 30 percent who favor a Republican candidate.

Around 58 percent of American Jews approve of the president’s job performance, quite a bit higher than the electorate as a whole. Not so long ago, Jewish support for Obama had been falling, as the economy languished. Now, with the shoots of recovery growing, Jews are returning to where they were before the 2008 election.

A closer look at the poll highlights the wide divisions among white voters. On one end, you find Jewish voters leaning Democratic and supporting the president. At the other end are white Evangelicals leaning Republican and opposing the president. The biggest gaps between the two groups are not on the standard economic issues that have divided Democrats and Republicans. The gaps shown here are on the social issues, such as abortion and gay rights.

And therein lies the biggest problem for the Republican Party in reaching out to Jewish voters today. While Jews are somewhat to the left of Republicans on economic matters, they are far, far from the Republicans on the social issues that animate the party’s base. On economic issues, the gap is not quite as stark.

Put simply, to the extent that Republican candidates reflect the most socially conservative elements of the party, their prospects of winning Jewish support are dim to nonexistent. The real giveaway is on two issues: abortion and gay rights. On both of those, Jews are, by a large margin, the most liberal group in America.

A majority of Jews (51 percent) strongly support gay marriage, by far the largest support among religious groups. Only 24 percent of all Americans take the same position. Another 30 percent of Jews somewhat favor gay marriage, leading to 81 percent support overall, compared to 48 percent of the nation. Among white Evangelicals, by contrast, only 6 percent strongly and 14 percent somewhat favor gay marriage.

On abortion, nearly half of Jews (49 percent) support abortion being legal in all cases, compared to 21 percent of all Americans. Another 44 percent of Jews favor abortion rights in most cases, for a total of 93 percent support. Among all Americans, support for legal abortion is at 53 percent. Among white Evangelicals, only 11 percent think that abortion should be legal in all cases, and 21 percent in most cases.

The recent debates about contraception have driven the gender gap to a yawning chasm, particularly among well-educated middle-class women. Other polls have long shown Jewish women in particular to be pro-choice at very high levels. Laws being passed in a number of states to make abortion nearly impossible to obtain, as well as debates over the availability of contraception or funding for Planned Parenthood, are likely to alarm Jewish voters.

And yet these vast differences on social issues are not replicated to the same degree on traditional economic issues. While 24 percent of Jews strongly favor tougher environmental laws, so do 17 percent of all Americans and 11 percent of white Evangelicals. While 58 percent of Jews strongly favor raising taxes on those earning a million dollars or more, so do 43 percent of all Americans and 36 percent of white Evangelicals. While 43 percent of white Evangelicals strongly believe that poor people have become too dependent on government programs, so do 21 percent of Jews.

Put another way, in a political system that contrasted pro-government Democrats against free-market Republicans, moderate Republicans could do rather well with Jewish voters. Conversely, Democrats could do much better with white Evangelicals on strictly economic populist issues if the social issues were out of the way. But of course the social issues do not go away so easily. Each party derives some short-term benefits from keeping them alive. For Republicans, the social issues cause their party base to oppose economic policies that might benefit them, because they are proposed by the same party that is pro-choice and favors gay rights. For Democrats, the social issues prevent desertions by upscale liberals who might be drawn to a centrist Republican economic alternative.

The link between the Republican Party and its socially conservative base will be difficult to change. The energy of social conservatism is critical to the party’s competitiveness. Mitt Romney can only reach across the aisle to Jewish voters by moderating his positions on, for example, Planned Parenthood, or the availability of abortion. But suspicious social conservatives will be closely watching him for any signs of waffling. House Republicans are likely to put a lot of pressure on Romney to toe the party line. In fact, Romney’s image of moderation that might appeal to Jewish voters is the reason that conservatives are particularly watchful for any deviation.

Republicans continue to believe that Jewish voters will be in play because of concerns among Jews about the Obama administration and Israel. Polls have never shown this to be a winning strategy. Among Jews, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is certainly seen as a good representative of Jewish values (73 percent), but so is Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan (appointed by Obama, with 66 percent), and “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart checks in at 63 percent.

There are really only two ways that Republicans can break their contemporary isolation from Jewish voters. One is for the economy to drop back into recession. The other is for the Republicans to move to the center on social issues. The first would be a stroke of fortune politically for Republicans, while the second would require an internal battle that would cost them dearly but might be worth it nonetheless.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

Florida primary is first big showdown for the Jewish vote

With Newt Gingrich gaining ground on frontrunner Mitt Romney, the stage is set for a crucial Jan. 31 Republican presidential primary in Florida. By playing a significant role in that day’s outcome, the state’s large Jewish population might set the tone for the rest of the GOP race.

About 638,000 Jews call Florida home, according to the December 2011 figures from the Jewish Virtual Library—in stark contrast to the relatively small Jewish communities in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, states that have held primaries and caucuses so far.

Up until 2004, Florida held its presidential primaries in March. Now, with an earlier contest—open only to Republican voters—an active Jewish electorate should wield significant influence, said Dr. Terri Susan Fine, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida.

If a primary is early in the calendar, Fine explained in an interview with JointMedia News Service, that means voters still have a choice of candidates—which is the case in Florida despite the dropouts of Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Herman Cain. Fine said voters in early primaries “end up impacting the choice for the rest of the nation, because if [a candidate] drops out because they don’t do well in your state, or if they do very well in your state … the media presents you as if you’re the winner.” With a later primary in previous election years, some names on the Florida ballot were those of candidates who had already dropped out, meaning “the whole tenor of the campaign changed by the time it got to Florida,” Fine said.

The fact that Florida’s primary is closed to voters outside the Republican party means a low voter turnout is likely, which Fine said magnifies the importance of the Jewish population.

“High-turnout groups within a low-turnout electoral environment are going to be very impactful, and Jews demonstrate not only the highest voter turnout compared with any other religion, but at the same time you’re also talking about the fact that the candidates’ recognize this,” Fine said. “So, we see some ways in which the candidates are differentiating themselves from one another, and also distinguishing themselves from President Obama in order to secure that vote from among Jewish voters, particularly in Florida.”

Herb Swarzman, vice president of Tampa Jewish Federation and area chairman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), told JointMedia News Service that there is a “great deal” of local interest in Florida regarding the presidential election “because of a general feeling amongst those who do contribute to political campaigns that Israel has not been treated well by this administration.” Jews for whom Israel is an important issue “want to participate to whatever extent they can in the Republican primaries so that they can defeat Barack Obama.”

Swarzman added that “there also is great concern amongst those who are actively involved, for those who read about the issues every day, for those who really care about the possible terrorist threat both in Israel and America, that the United States government is not dealing properly with Iran … and they are looking for a candidate who will be much more aggressive towards the Iranian attempts to create nuclear power.”

However, besides for voters concerned with Obama’s Israel policies, Rabbi David Steinhardt—leader of B’nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton and Jewish Community Relations Council chair for the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County—told JointMedia News Service that he sees a “growing realization among many in the Jewish community that the early portrayal of President Obama not being a friend of Israel has been changing.”

Following Gingrich’s surprise 12-point victory over Romney in South Carolina, a new Rasmussen Report poll shows the former Speaker of the House garnering 41 percent support among likely Florida GOP primary voters, with 32 percent backing Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and winner of the New Hampshire primary. Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who edged Romney in the Iowa caucus, and Texas congressman Ron Paul also remain in the race.

Swarzman said he is supporting Gingrich because he “was the most pro-Israel Speaker in the history of this country and I think that he will declare Jerusalem as the undivided capitol of Israel no matter what the State Department or the Arab countries say, if he becomes the president.”

Steinhardt said his “subjective reading” of the perception of the Republican primary in Florida “is one of disappointment.”

“By in large, I sense that the community feels that the Republican candidates don’t reflect the stature or the vision that they’re looking for in a president of the United States,” he said.

Steinhardt also believes “that the press has sold the Jewish community short, in that the Jewish community is not just a one-issue voting bloc anymore, and I don’t know if it ever was, but maybe we tend to think of it that way.”

“Jews are very concerned about healthcare, and very concerned about social policy, and very concerned about issues of war and peace and national defense and Israel,” he said. “Those are all on the agenda of engaged Jews who are politically aware and somewhat active in the process—certainly active in the conversation.”

With the highest percentage of elderly residents compared to any other state, issues such as Medicare, Social Security and healthcare are critical for Jewish voters in Florida, Swarzman and Steinhardt agreed.

The older nature of Florida’s Jewish voter base has another political impact, according to Fine. She said scholars have found that members of Congress born after 1950 take a different position on Israel than those born before 1950. This is attributed to memories of the Holocaust and World War II, and memories relating to the formation of the state of Israel, Fine explained.

“So, if you didn’t have that experience in your lifetime, or if you had the experience but don’t remember it, then that has an impact on your overall political socialization and that impacts how you function in Congress,” Fine said. “We found, for example, that older members of Congress had to be far more for one state of Israel, pro-Israel, but the other members of Congress are more likely to be more liberal when it comes to the notion of Palestinian rights and the right or return of Palestinians and those kinds of things.”

Looking ahead to the general election, one can easily remember 2000, when George W. Bush’s historically narrow victory over Al Gore in Florida—amid a recount of the vote and a Supreme Court ruling in his favor—essentially decided the presidency. Fine said Florida could have an even greater impact on the 2012 election because the state’s number of electoral votes has increased from 27 to 29, exceeding 10 percent of the total electoral votes a candidate needs to win.

With Florida’s “winner take all” system within the Electoral College, all a candidate needs is one more vote than the closest competitor to gain all 29 electoral votes—and that’s why the Jewish vote matters, said Dr. Ira Sheskin, director of the Jewish Demography Project of the Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Jewish Studies at the University of Miami.

In close presidential elections, which are usually won by a margin of about 52 percent to 48 percent, candidates are fighting for small percentages and need to appeal to every vote they can get, Sheskin told JointMedia News Service. Although Florida’s Jews amount to 3.7 percent of the state’s total population, well over 90 percent of Jews are registered to vote—meaning they represent a more statistically significant 6-8 percent of Florida’s electorate, Sheskin said, adding that Jews are more likely to vote than other groups.

“[Florida is] very significant because the Jewish population is large here, and Florida is a significant state because of the Electoral College,” said Steinhardt, “so obviously there’s great importance to the Jewish vote here.”

Handicapping the 2008 Presidential Race

Just one year after the congressional elections, we are nearing the first caucuses and primaries. California votes on Feb. 5. While Jews are expected to vote for the Democratic nominee in large numbers, Republicans hope to cut into that margin, and also to compete for campaign donations.

For the Republican candidates, who must be conservative enough to win the nomination, the key to any chance of Jewish support will be to then “pivot” toward the center. Republicans are still loyal to their unpopular president and expect their potential nominees to support him. Democratic candidates, meanwhile, temper their opposition to the Iraq war with a hawkishness on Iran that provides some protection in a Jewish community attuned to Iran’s threat to Israel.

So let’s take a look at the top tier candidates in each party and how they might do with Jewish voters.

The Republicans

Rudy Guiliani

Former New York City mayor Guiliani has surprised everybody by his steady lead in national polls. He has built his campaign around his response to the Sept. 11 attacks. As mayor of New York, Guiliani did extremely well with mostly Democratic Jewish voters, who liked his law-and-order stance, his disdain for the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and his liberalism on gay rights, immigration and abortion. Orthodox Jews were particularly pro-Guiliani. His refusal to disavow his pro-choice position on abortion can only help him with Jewish voters if he gets the nomination.

He has major liabilities, however. In addition to his personal life and the indictment of his friend and ally Bernard Kerik, Guiliani has had to go far right to gain absolution for his social liberalism. That has meant giving full-throated support to Bush and maximum sway to a blustery authoritarian streak a mile wide. But what wins the confidence of the religious right might hurt him with Jewish voters.

Mitt Romney

Unlike Guiliani, Romney announced a nicely timed conversion from pro-choice to pro-life. Romney would start at a disadvantage with the heavily pro-choice Jewish community.

Romney has embraced the simplistic foreign policy mantra that has now entrenched itself on the Right, that the United States is surrounded by a global “Islamofascism” movement more powerful than Nazi Germany. Religiously tolerant Jewish voters will probably not be much bothered by Romney’s Mormon religion. Romney has strongly tied himself both to Israel and to confronting Iran. He remains close to former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Romney can gain some ground with the bipartisan health care plan that he helped pass as governor of Massachusetts. His plan presents a dilemma because it is much like Hillary Clinton’s plan. In the run-up to the nomination, Romney is distancing himself from his own plan and attacking Clinton’s as government-run health care. He is instead embracing the unpopular Republican position of health-care tax credits. But if became the nominee, he would be unique among Republicans in his ability to talk knowledgeably about health care, and could narrow the Democratic advantage on that issue. Once again, can he pivot?

John McCain

John McCain had great potential for support among Jewish voters. Stubbornly independent, willing to cross party lines in the Senate, an articulate voice on campaign finance reform (for which Jewish voters are a principal constituency) and an opponent of torture, McCain might have struck some gold with Jewish voters, despite his strong pro-life record. But McCain calculated that to win the nomination he had to embrace Bush. He has ended up the nowhere man of the campaign, tied to Bush’s most unpopular moves but not quite trusted by the right wing. He did not help himself with Jewish voters when he tried to appeal to the religious right by saying that the presidency should be held by a Christian.

Despite his support for the war, McCain remains the only foreign policy grownup in the Republican field. His friendship with Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has built some good will with moderate and conservative Jews. McCain remains an appealing candidate should he manage to emerge from a relatively weak field.

Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee

Thompson and Huckabee are running as the true social conservatives, hardly a position designed to appeal to Jews, and each is still a factor in the race. Thompson’s sluggish campaign and lack of policy sophistication can be unnerving, especially to Jewish voters who admire well-informed and articulate candidates. Huckabee is a highly appealing personality, with the kind of color that stands out in a drab field. He may emerge from the pack and could reach the No. 2 spot on the ticket.

The Democrats

Hillary Clinton

The first female candidate with a serious chance of winning the White House, Clinton was once the right wing’s symbol of the ’60s “counter culture.” Now she is the least liberal Democrat in the race.

Some Jewish voters still harbor doubts about her pro-Israel credentials. In 1999, she kissed the wife of Yasser Arafat who had just given a speech criticizing Israel (Clinton said that the speech had not been translated). The Clintons were both treated with suspicion by pro-Israel organizations when the president pushed for a peace settlement at the end of his presidency. When she ran for the senate in New York in 2000, she was taking on the nation’s toughest Jewish audience.

According to Kristen Lombardi, writing in the Village Voice, though: “Among Jewish leaders, you’d have to search far and wide to find anyone who claims Clinton isn’t a friend of Israel.” That’s a far cry from her first race in 2000. Her foreign policy hawkishness, especially on Iran, has helped.

Out here in California, she is more vulnerable from Jews on the left, on the issue of the Iraq war and whether she is too hawkish in foreign policy. However, she is probably safer with Jewish voters being a hawkish Democrat than in flirting too much with the antiwar constituency, which sometimes concerns Jews on the issue of Israel.

Barack Obama

Writing in the Los Angeles Times in October, Ronald Brownstein pointed out that Obama is running the typical “reform” campaign in the Democratic primaries while Clinton is running the more traditional working-class campaign. That analysis helps explain both why Obama is running so well and getting such good media coverage, but also why he is having difficulty cutting into Clinton’s lead.

Democrats have no beitzim

It’s not polite to say the English word for cojones in this paper, so I’ll use the Hebrew: beitzim.
Beitzim means eggs in Hebrew, but it is also slang for cojones.
And as the midterm election draws near, any clear-eyed assessment of the Democratic Party would have to conclude: the Democrats have no beitzim.
Plenty of them are gloating that the congressional page sex scandal will clinch a victory for them in November. But I doubt it. It wouldn’t shock me if, New York Yankees-like, the team that looks unbeatable in the playoffs gets sent packing.
This is the party that couldn’t unseat a president who chose to launch a disastrous war, and who waded against mainstream opinion on everything from stem cell research to energy policy to the environment to Terri Schiavo. At every turn, Democratic candidates have failed to offer an alternative voice that makes Americans feel not just sane, but safe.
I am sick of Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi and all the other so-called Democratic leaders. I’m all ears, and they’re still tone deaf. They are either smug or shrill, and for all their smarts, rarely inspiring.
The most engaging, hard-hitting liberals in this country right now are Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher. But they’re not leaders, they’re jesters. They tell funny bedtime stories so that about 2 million New York Times readers can fall asleep believing the world hasn’t really gone to hell.
But last time I checked no president ever won on the Snarky ticket.
There are courageous, brilliant Democrats out there, including many Jewish ones. But they aren’t the party leaders, and with the exception of Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), none of them have White House aspirations, and so far none of them seem to know how to inspire the masses from behind a microphone. Does Feingold? We shall see.
I can carbon date the age of the Democrats’ petrified beitzim precisely. If my generation will never forget where they were when Kennedy was shot, today’s young voters will always remember where they were when JFK’s party got neutered.
It happened on Jan. 26, 1998. On that day, President Bill Clinton lied to the public about his liaison with Monica Lewinsky. Instead of standing up to the Republicans and saying, “Hey, I was wrong, now get over it, because I’m not going anywhere,” he caved. The Democrats have been sorry ever since.
Contrast that to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). When revelations emerged last week that he bungled an investigation into the predatory conduct of Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.). Hastert admitted he blew it, but held firm. He dissembled, he got caught, then he apologized, and now he is staring down the media and the nation, like Kim Jung Il and his nukes, refusing to budge, daring them to call his bluff. I never thought I’d write this sentence, but Bill Clinton is no Dennis Hastert.
“In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man,” the Pirke Avot says. The vacuum in Democratic leadership has allowed Republicans to launch headlong attacks on long-established liberal bulwarks. With the Democrats offering Titanic-quality leadership, Republicans understand that even the historic Democratic voters — Latinos, blacks, Jews — are in play. What seems impossibly ingrained can change in a generation, or an election. In his new book, “Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South,” Thomas Schaller points out that until Barry Goldwater came on the scene in the 1960s, “white Southerners … trailed only the Jews and African Americans in their degree of economic liberalism.”
The struggle over Jewish votes erupted in these pages in response not to an article, but to a series of ads. Smelling blood, the Republican Jewish Coalition bought full-page front-of-the-book placement in major Jewish papers across the country to make their claim that Democrats are weak on Israel and soft on terrorism. One particularly subtle ad featured a full-page photo of Britain’s pre-war Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, likening Dems to Nazi appeasers.
Others offered selected quotes from anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan and former President Jimmy Carter, as a way to show an erosion of support for Israel within the party.
The Democratic response has been — surprise! — weak. They argue that Sheehan is not the Democratic Party — although the Democrats were happy to use her during the 2004 Presidential race — and that former President Carter is not the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Except that he was, um, president of the United States.
The Democrats need to acknowledge that support for Israel is showing signs of softening among the party’s left-leaning activist base, even as blind pro-Israel fervor marks the right-leaning evangelical base of the Republicans. The Democrats should acknowledge this, address it, find a way to repair it — and fight back.
They might want to point out that eight years ago every senior Israeli analyst identified Iran as Israel’s greatest strategic threat, and that under six years of President Bush, the Iranian threat — due to the fiasco in Iraq, and despite the president’s rhetoric — has increased multifold.
They might want to argue that the president’s failure to wean America from its dependence on oil — despite an ideal post-Sept. 11 environment in which to boldly do so — deeply cripples our ability to stand up to Arab regimes. In his new book, “State of Denial,” Bob Woodward reveals that the president received his foreign policy tutoring from the prince of Saudi Arabia. There’s no doubt President Bush loves Israel, but good for Israel: Hey, Democrats, stop defending Jimmy Carter and make an argument.
So who can save the Democrats? The Jews.

Community Briefs

Jewish Candidate Drops Out of Insurance Chief Race

One of two Jewish candidates seeking the Republican nomination for California insurance commissioner has pulled out of the race.

Dr. Phil Kurzner, a Westside urologist, told supporters at a Feb. 21 fundraiser that he is withdrawing from the commissioner’s race, according to Dr. Joel Strom, a Santa Monica dentist who served as Kurzner’s campaign chair. The event took place at the Regency Club in Westwood and was attended by Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who had come to help raise funds for Kurzner.

The likely front-runner for the Republican spot in the June 6 primary is Steve Poizner, who is also Jewish. Poizner is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has made millions creating global positioning technology. Los Angeles businessman Gary Mendoza is the only other Republican in the race.

“The Republican establishment was lining up behind our opponent, Steve Poizner, and we felt that for the party and for party unity, we would withdraw from the race,” said Strom, former president of the Republican Jewish Coalition of Los Angeles.

In a campaign statement after Kurzner’s withdrawal, Poizner praised him, saying, “I am grateful that we will not have to face him in this primary.”

Strom said Kurzner’s campaign had raised more than $400,000 and Kurzner had made 200 campaign appearances over the past two years. At a Jan. 25 fundraiser at the Pacific Palisades home of former gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon, Kurzner told guests, “I’m not afraid to lose, and I’m not afraid to win.”

Poizner’s campaign funds are estimated to be at least $4.6 million, making him more financially potent than Kurzner might have been against Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the Democratic front-runner for insurance commissioner. John Garamendi, the current commissioner, is running for lieutenant governor this year.

“The larger purpose is to defeat Bustamante,” Strom said. — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Two Officials Back Halted Jerusalem Museum Project

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center has the full support of Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski to continue construction on its new Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance in the heart of Jerusalem, despite Muslim concerns that the museum would be built atop a former Islamic cemetery, Gidi Schmerling, Jerusalem municipality spokesman, told The Jewish Journal Feb. 24.

Construction of the $200 million project was halted Feb. 15, when lawyers for two Muslim organizations sent a petition to the Israeli High Court of Justice. The petition asserted that thousands of Muslims who died during the Crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries are buried at the site where the center is being built. They also argued that in the seventh century, associates of the Islamic prophet Mohammad were interred at the site.

Last week, the High Court appointed former Chief Justice Meir Shamgar as a mediator. Shamgar has a month to find a resolution.

Lupolianski, the spokesman said, recently sent a letter to the Wiesenthal Center applauding the building of the museum.

“For the past three decades, this land has been utilized as a public car park, and it is commendable that it will now serve as the site for this important museum,” the mayor wrote.

The office of acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also confirmed that Olmert has given his support for continued construction of the Wiesenthal museum at the current site. Olmert called the museum “an essential project for Jerusalem, a landmark that will change the face of Jerusalem forever.” — Yaakov Katz, Contributing Writer


Against the Tide — Again

Can California’s new Republican governor make inroads among traditionally Democratic Jews? Jewish voters aren’t likely to abandon the Democratic party anytime soon, but will likely give Arnold Schwarzenegger a chance to prove that he can govern in a bipartisan, moderate manner.

Every election, Republicans dream that Jewish voters will abandon their long-standing Democratic loyalty and vote their pocketbooks. Nothing is more maddening to Republicans than Milton Himmelfarb’s epigram, “Jews live like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.”

Republicans had high hopes that the recall would break the back of Jewish Democratic loyalty. The Los Angeles Times exit poll, conducted regularly in statewide elections, can tell us what actually happened with Jewish voters on election day.

The Jewish vote is taking on increasing importance in California elections. With 3 percent of the population, Jews cast anywhere between 4 and 6 percent of the statewide vote. Democrats need Jewish voters more than ever to close the disturbing gap in minority participation since Gray Davis’s first election as governor in 1998.

As the state’s population becomes more diverse, the voters are becoming more white. In 1998, whites cast 64 percent of all votes, but 73 percent in the 2000 presidential race. In Davis’ 2002 reelection, whites cast 76 percent of all votes, and in the recall 72 percent. These figures reflect declining minority turnout, from a high of 26 percent (13 percent black and 13 percent Latino) in 1998 to 17 percent in the recall (6 percent black and 11 percent Latino).

So what happened to Jewish voters in the recall? According to the Los Angeles Times exit poll, Jews once again swam against the largely white tide, voting heavily (69 percent) against the recall and by a majority for Democratic replacement candidate Cruz Bustamante (52 percent). Whites in general (including Jews) supported the recall with 59 percent of their votes, and gave Schwarzenegger 53 percent and Bustamante only 27 percent.

Jews were 28 percentage points more likely than whites in general to oppose the recall. (Since Jews are included in the white category, the difference is probably even greater.) Only African Americans (79 percent) were more opposed to the recall than Jews. Latinos were divided; only 55 percent voted against the recall, and 55 percent for Bustamante.

Jewish opposition to the recall was not enough to overcome Latino ambivalence and low African American participation. White preferences carried the day.

While Republicans lost Jews on the recall, they could take some comfort in the 31 percent of Jews who voted for Schwarzenegger (equal to the 31 percent of Latino votes Arnold received). This is somewhat higher than Jewish voting for Republican statewide candidates in the last several elections, but still far short of a realignment of Jewish voting. Jewish voters obviously focused most heavily on defeating the recall.

Clearly, though, Schwarzenegger made some inroads among Jews. Jews were more familiar with Schwarzenegger than any other candidate on the ballot other than Davis. He is a Westsider married to prominent Democrat Maria Shriver, a huge figure in the entertainment industry, and close to Richard Riordan, who is well-known and liked among Jews. When charges emerged that Arnold had spoken well of Hitler, leaders of the Wiesenthal Center rushed forward to offer support. He is apparently pro-choice on abortion, a critical voting test for Jews.

Despite Jewish opposition to the recall, Schwarzenegger might have done better with Jewish voters had his campaign not been so adolescent and anti-intellectual in tone, marked by assertions that the people don’t care about numbers, and by the avoidance of serious debates. Jewish voters, probably the best-informed in the electorate, were unlikely to be impressed with smart-alecky one-liners from the movies. Arnold’s AM radio campaign was unlikely to appeal to FM radio Jewish voters.

Despite much resentment about the whole recall process, Jewish voters will likely give Arnold a chance. In the first several days after his election victory, Schwarzenegger showed signs of being an elected official who might expand his Jewish beachhead. Such expansion would not be the result of making Jewish voters into Republicans, but rather making Republican leadership seem less alienating and threatening to Jews.

Selecting a transition team with a few active Democrats was a move that might reassure Jewish voters that he would not seek to impose the sort of harsh, us-against-them partisan edge that George W. Bush brought to Washington, D.C., after another disputed election. Arnold has seemed more interested in being a grown-up as governor than he was as a gubernatorial candidate.

Schwarzenegger will have trouble with Jewish voters if he seeks to use these symbols of bipartisanship as a cover for a budget agenda that hurts public services and education. Avoiding questions about the sexual groping charges (“it’s old news,” now says the governor-elect) after promising to clear the air after his election will not do wonders for his credibility. Jewish voters are highly attentive to political news, and are unlikely to overlook such a clear contradiction.

But if Schwarzenegger truly seeks to solve the state’s problems without being a tool of right-wing forces, and with an open-minded, progressive approach, he may find a surprising number of friends among California’s Democratic-leaning Jewish voters.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at California State University, Fullerton. His column appears monthly.

Elephant in the Valley

Used to be that every once in a blue moon, a rare Republican, who happened to be Jewish, would decide to run for office in the heavily Democratic San Fernando Valley, only to be soundly defeated at the polls.

This year, Jewish Republicans hope to change all that with three candidates: Robert M. Levy, who is running against Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks); Connie Friedman, who is up against Jewish Democrat Lloyd Levine for former Assemblyman Robert Hertzberg’s old seat in the 40th District, which covers most of the San Fernando Valley, and newcomer Michael J. Wissot, who will compete against Assemblywoman Fran Pavley in the heavily Democratic 41st District, which is located partially in Ventura County.

Pavley originally won the seat in 2000 in a race against another Jewish Republican, Jayne Shapiro. What was interesting about Shapiro was that she was progressive on social issues and once said she would be a Democrat, but for the fact that she was a fiscal conservative. The new crop of Republicans is decidedly more traditional in their outlook, citing the interference of big government in people’s personal lives as the main reason behind their party affiliation.

"I believe where government is small and doesn’t interfere with people, then people are more free to practice their religion as they see fit," said Levy, 49, an attorney in private practice in West Hills. "As a Jew, it is important for me to see to it that I have the freedom to practice my religion as I want, without undue government interference."

Friedman, 60, a consultant who runs a human resources outsourcing business, voiced similar views.

"If you look at the values of Judaism and those of the Republican Party, they are very much in line," she said. "Republicans are very devoted to family issues; they think people should take personal responsibility for their actions, which is also a part of Judaism."

Friedman said she believes that more Jews would be Republican if there was more emphasis on concrete areas of government and less on controversial topics such as abortion and gay rights.

"I don’t think choosing to be a Democrat or a Republican should be based on social issues," she said. "Whether someone has an abortion or is in a homosexual relationship is a personal issue. To me, the issues that should be political are the economy, education and the things that make up our state’s infrastructure, like roads and electricity. If everyone can choose to have an abortion but our roads are bad and our educational system sucks, what difference will it make? Social issues should be personal, not political."

Levy attributes the continuing association of the vast majority of American Jews with the Democratic Party as a leftover tradition steeped in the patriotic fervor of World War II.

"It was a good idea to vote for Franklin Roosevelt, but Franklin Roosevelt isn’t around anymore," he joked. "The needs of America are different now, and I think most of the feelings and values of the Jewish people can be found, oddly enough, in both parties. Nowadays whether people are registered Republican or Democrat, they vote for the people, not the party."

He said one significant reason he has been a longtime member of the Republican Party is its ongoing support for Israel.

"The various Republican presidents and the Republican leadership have been much more friendly to the cause of Israel and to the need for Israel to exist than has the Democrat leadership," said Levy. "As disgraced as a president he was, Richard Nixon helped save the state of Israel during the latter part of his presidency by supporting Golda Meir. And look at President Bush and what he is doing for Israel. President Bush basically believes Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are terrorists and that Israel has the right to retaliate against terrorism."

For Wissot, 27, creator and managing general partner of, an online referral service for dentists nationwide, choosing the Republican Party was a natural outgrowth of what he was taught at his family’s shul, Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks.

"I grew up understanding the Torah as talking about being grateful but never being satisfied," he said. "That was something that had a profound effect on me throughout my Jewish education, and I strived to always be grateful for having a wonderful family and all these opportunities around me, but not to be satisfied with the status quo, to find ways to give back to the community. What I found in the Republican Party is that we should be thankful for where we have arrived, but we should not forget the future, we should not forget about giving back and tikkun olam. This is the party that is preparing for the future."

Although skepticism remains alive and a Republican’s chance of winning a Valley seat are slim, supporters contend there’s never been a better time to run.

"Until recently, Jewish Republicans were not taken very seriously," said Richard Sherman, a clinical psychologist who serves on the endorsements committee for the Republican Jewish Coalition in Los Angeles (RJCLA). "But there’s a reason why our organization has grown so quickly. To me, Jewish Republicans are more tolerant and more open-minded than Jewish Democrats. You come to our meetings and we’re talking about issues and questioning things. The Jewish Democrats are rank and file; they don’t even think, they just follow."

The RJCLA has endorsed Levy, Wissot and Friedman, who serves on the organization’s national governing board, as well as that of RJCLA.

"I really admire these people for having the courage to run," Sherman said. "The Valley used to be seen as Democrat, but I don’t know if it’s so Democrat-leaning anymore. A lot can happen between now and November. I’m struck by the idea that even a few months ago, people talking about the Valley becoming a separate city said there was no way it could happen, but now it is looking like more of a reality. So you never know."

New Directions

Who’s the big winner in Tuesday’s Los Angeles mayoral election? My bet is real estate developer Steve Soboroff. James Kenneth Hahn may be an old-line Democrat, but he benefited mightily from the silence maintained by the wealthy Republican businessman, who had come in third in the April primary.

Soboroff’s refusal to endorse former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, as Soboroff’s political mentor Mayor Richard Riordan did, was an artful way of leaving his white conservative supporters in the Hahn camp, or letting them stay home.

The Los Angeles Times exit poll confirms the Steve Effect. Fully 26 percent of Hahn voters came from Soboroff, the largest group among the six primary candidates. By comparison, fence-sitting was the tendency for supporters of veteran Valley City Councilmember Joel Wachs, who had endorsed Villaraigosa; they split about 3 to 2 for Hahn.

As for Jewish voting patterns, I won’t be shocked to find larger numbers for Hahn. Yes, the younger liberal core probably held firm. But as Election Day approached, and the campaign took a snide turn, it was clear many were seeking an out. You could feel the fear level rise.

Even two weeks ago, there was a heartfelt desire for coalition with Los Angeles’ largest rising ethnic majority. That desire remains, but given the well-publicized split in the Latino community political hierarchy around Villaraigosa, voters lost the guts for the brave act. Sadly for Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Jewish community leaders who went out on a limb, Antonio is now being seen as one who created his own demise. We’ll see how this plays out in the world of ethnic bridge-building.

The legacy of beloved Supervisor Kenny Hahn, the new mayor’s father, is an old-line paternalism that has always meant less to Jewish voters than to blacks. So, as of now, the black-Jewish coalition is dead, and the Latino-Jewish coalition is back to the drawing board.

But this point can be made: Our electorate is now far older than the average Los Angeleno — less prone toward risk-taking. At the Westin Bonaventure Hahn headquarters on election eve, Valley Councilmember Hal Bernson stood out among the crowd of blacks and Koreans. Yet the Jewish conservative flank of representatives is growing, with the addition of police advocate Dennis Zine, who defeated Judith Hirshberg in the 3rd District of Tarzana. Zine replaces Laura Chick, the new city controller. In such a mix, will we recognize our own representatives in city debate?

That’s the vacuum that affable, business-oriented Soboroff may fill. Wachs is leaving Los Angeles to head an arts foundation in New York. Riordan is turning his attention toward a possible run for governor. This leaves Soboroff, the former parks commissioner under Riordan, with nothing but time and opportunity, not to mention an audience wanting his ideas on solving, say, traffic congestion.

On the radio on Election Eve, Soboroff could be heard positioning himself as experienced in the serious business decisions that neither Hahn or Villaraigosa understood.

The biggest loss Tuesday? City Councilmember Mike Feuer of the 5th District, defeated in the race for city attorney by Rocky Delgadillo, in an astounding upset for those who care about good government. Arguably, Feuer was born to be city attorney, having started out in the estimable Bet Tzedek, the nonprofit legal institution that represents seniors, Holocaust survivors and others in need.

Pin Feuer’s loss to Riordan’s money and the billboard industry’s support for Delgadillo. Feuer’s moving on from City council signals the end of an era, the braided candle of political liberalism and law reform that has run through Westside Jewish politics since the days of Roz Wyman, through Zev Yaroslavsky.

Federal prosecutor Jack Weiss has defeated State Assemblyman Tom Hayden, though only 289 votes separate the two.

At Westwood Brewing Company, Weiss took a shot not only at Hayden but at the liberal Old Guard now being replaced. Noting that Hayden’s ad campaign focused on his own reputation as a maverick, Weiss asked, “How long can Hayden run on events that happened three months before I was born?”

Weiss has become more than anti-Hayden; his campaign rose from nowhere by emphasizing his commitment to the local neighborhood. Yet, one can only hope that Weiss appreciates the role of the 5th District in shaping a politics that is concerned with larger issues than whether Westwood has a supermarket.

All politics is local, but Jewish politics has a universal flavor that serves everyone well.

Finally, near midnight, Mayor Riordan himself bounded into Anna’s Italian restaurant on Pico, to congratulate Marlene Canter on her 4th District school board victory.

“For the children!” he cheered. Canter, a businesswoman with experience in teacher training, spent nearly $2 million to defeat incumbent Valerie Fields. This victory, too, marks a change in the community agenda. Once upon a time, Jewish politics was synonymous with unions, especially the teachers’ union, which gave so many of us a stab at job security.

But school board member David Tokofsky, a supporter of Canter’s, said it right when he insisted that the new board’s first priority is upgrading teacher skills. Job security for professional staff means nothing if our children don’t learn.