18 percent of eligible Americans in Israel voted in midterms


Expatriate Americans in Israel voting in the midterm U.S. congressional elections numbered 30,000, or 18 percent of those eligible to vote, according to a group that encourages such voting.

Matt Solomon, the director of iVoteIsrael, said Israel leads other countries by far in turnout of U.S. citizens living there.

In previous non-presidential elections, turnout among American expatriates around the world was 1 percent, Solomon said in a release Thursday, two days after the election, and it is 5 percent in presidential election years.

In 2012, a presidential year, there were 80,000 Americans in Israel who voted, or 50 percent of those eligible, he said, constituting 25 percent of all American expatriates who voted that year.

“This connection between countries demonstrates the breadth of the unique relationship between the two countries,” he said.

U.S. voters in Israel hailed from 36 states.

As U.S. officials descend on Israel, Republicans rally for votes


For a few days at least, the old joke about Israel being the 51st U.S. state feels true.

A litany of U.S. officials and politicians are parading through Israel this month, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney at the end of the month. In addition, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Deputy Secretary of State William Burns either have visited or will visit this month.

With the exception of Romney’s visit, the trips are not so much about the U.S. presidential campaign as U.S. policy concerns in the region. Clinton’s meetings on Monday focused on Egypt’s new government, the effort to halt Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program and Israeli-Palestinian relations.

But there’s also a good bit of U.S. politicking happening in Israel.

Last week, Ari Fleischer, President George W. Bush’s former spokesman, and Matthew Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, spent three days touring Israel stumping for Romney under the auspices of the RJC. They held events in places with large numbers of Americans, like Jerusalem and Modiin, and spoke with reporters.

Their mission on the trip was two-fold: to convince Americans in Israel to register to vote—and cast those votes for Romney—and to get American expats to convince their relatives back home to vote Republican, too.

“I don’t want to have a president where we have to wonder does he or does he not have Israel’s back,” Fleischer said at a July 10 event in Jerusalem that drew about 120 people. “The choice is between pushing Israel around as President Obama has done, and Governor Romney, who will stand strong by Israel’s side.”

Estimates of the American population in Israel vary from 100,000 to 250,000. The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem does not offer an official number, saying only that 80,000 Americans live in and around Jerusalem. On their trip, Brooks and Fleischer talked about 150,000 potential voters, a figure that includes both dual U.S.-Israeli citizens and students and other temporary residents here.

Fleischer described the American expatriate community in Israel as similarly sized to Toledo, Ohio, or Fort Lauderdale, Fla., two midsized cities in swing states. And large numbers of Americans in Israel hail from those swing states, which means their absentee ballots could sway the election.

The message that Brooks tried to hammer home in Israel was that Jewish support for Obama is on the wane. At the event in Jerusalem, he made note of an American Jewish Committee poll in April that showed Jewish support for Obama had fallen to 61 percent. In 2008, Obama captured 74 percent of the Jewish vote, according to a new study; previous estimates had put the figure at 78 percent.

“Republicans are making inroads. People who voted for Obama have buyer’s remorse now,” Brooks said. “His support is eroding in the Jewish community.”

Despite his drop in popularity, Obama remains more popular among Jews than among Americans generally.

In Israel, polls show Obama remains deeply unpopular. Among American voters in Israel, polls conducted after the 2008 election by Keevoon, a Jerusalem-based research firm, found that 76 percent of those surveyed voted for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) vs. 24 percent for Obama.

Despite the perception that American Israelis don’t like Obama, Hillel Schenker, the vice chairman of Democrats Abroad Israel, says he expects the majority of U.S. voters in Israel to support the president—as Jews in America are likely to do.

Obama “has consistently expressed his clear dedication and commitment to Israel’s fundamental security needs,” Schenker said. “His sensitivity toward Israel’s security needs cannot be compared to anyone else.”

iVoteIsrael is one of several efforts in Israel to register American voters. Along with the RJC, iVoteIsrael cosponsored the Jerusalem event featuring Fleischer and Brooks, and the organization activists placed voter registration forms under every seat.

The organization is officially nonpartisan, but its founder, Elie Pieprz, is a former Republican activist who used to work with Republicans Abroad Israel and in America as a lobbyist for the conservative nonprofit Americans for Tax Reform. Pieprz said he cut his ties with those groups before starting iVoteIsrael.

“It’s important to have strong engagement of ideas on both sides,” he said. “If you have one side engaging and one side not engaging, that can lead to apathy.”

iVoteIsrael has about a dozen employees and 50 to 60 volunteers in Israel. The organization also is sponsoring a series of debates immediately before Romney’s visit between local Republicans and Democrats. Pieprz would not say how many voters the group has registered.

The visits by U.S. figures are helping ratchet up the volume of the presidential campaign in Israel, but Republicans Abroad Israel and Democrats Abroad Israel have been doing campaign work here for years. Both partisan organizations plan to promote their respective parties in the coming months with Op-Eds in Israeli and Jewish publications.

Whatever the outcome in November, Pieprz says all the attention given to U.S. voters here will end up benefiting Israel.

“There are American citizens here in Israel and we want to be treated that way,” he said. “It’s not about how America treats an ally. It’s about how America treats American citizens.”

Romney and Santorum in stalemate on Super Tuesday


Mitt Romney failed to land a knockout blow against rival Rick Santorum on “Super Tuesday,” raising the prospect of a drawn-out battle for the Republican presidential nomination between the party’s establishment and its grassroots conservatives.

Santorum and Romney were neck-and-neck in Ohio, the biggest prize of the 10 state contests held on Tuesday.

Romney won liberal-leaning Massachusetts and Vermont and cruised to victory in Virginia, where Santorum was not on the ballot.

Santorum scored convincing wins in conservative Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota.

Newt Gingrich won his home state of Georgia, while results from Idaho and Alaska were expected in the coming hours. More than 400 of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the party’s nomination are at stake.

All eyes were on Ohio, a traditional bellwether state that could play an important role in deciding the Republican nominee to challenge Democratic President Barack Obama on Nov. 6.

With 85 percent of the vote counted, Santorum and Romney were tied with 37 percent of the vote each. A Romney aide predicted victory and said votes from their strongholds had not been counted yet.

Exit polls showed that Ohio voters viewed Romney as more likely to defeat Obama, but thought Santorum was more sympathetic to average Americans’ concerns. Santorum won more support among middle-income voters who make up the bulk of the electorate.

“I think Santorum is believable, wholesome. When he talks, his ideas are genuine. I don’t put any stock in Romney,” said Lonnie Vestal, 36, a pastor from Mason, Ohio.

STRUGGLE TO CONNECT

Romney, who built a fortune of at least $200 million as a private-equity executive, has struggled to connect with conservatives and blue-collar voters. A convincing win in Ohio would have put many of those doubts to rest, but a loss could point to an extended, state-by-state battle.

Romney looked likely to extend his lead among delegates even if he does not win Ohio, as Santorum’s thinly staffed campaign failed to qualify for delegates in several swaths of Ohio. Under new rules designed to lengthen the nominating battle, most states at this stage of the process award delegates on a proportional basis.

“We’re counting up the delegates for the convention and it looks good,” Romney told supporters in his home state of Massachusetts.

Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, has won support of religious conservatives thanks to his opposition to gay marriage and his views on other hot-button social issues. His controversial comments about birth control and the role of religion have alienated moderate-leaning voters, and Romney has pelted him with negative ads.

“We’re going to get at least a couple of gold medals and a whole passel full of silver medals,” he told supporters. “We’ve won in the West, the Midwest in the South and we’re going to win across this country.”

Gingrich’s strategy of focusing on southern states did not pay off in Tennessee and Oklahoma, but he vowed to stay in the race after his Georgia win.

“There are lots of bunny rabbits to run through, I am the tortoise. I just take one step at a time,” Gingrich said.

Ron Paul, a U.S. representative from Texas known for his libertarian views, hopes to score his first win in Alaska.

In recent presidential campaigns, the Super Tuesday wave of primaries and caucuses has often settled the Republican race. But this year’s race is likely to stretch until April or May – or possibly until the last contest on June 26 – under new rules designed to attract more voters and boost enthusiasm.

But recent polls indicate the lengthy primary season may actually be alienating voters. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released on Tuesday showed that more voters view the candidates negatively than positively. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on Monday found that 40 percent of voters view the Republican Party less favorably than they did before voting started in January.

Additional reporting by Sam Youngman in Massachusetts, Lily Kuo and Emily Stephenson in Washington and Colleen Jenkins in Atlanta; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Vicki Allen

Mitt Romney narrowly wins Ohio in Super Tuesday split


Super Tuesday Republican primaries were a race between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, Republicans selected a Jewish veteran for Ohio’s senate run, and Dennis Kucinich lost his bid for reelection.

Ten states went to the polls Tuesday in what is the biggest election day of primary season.

“Super Tuesday” usually helps determine a frontrunner, but Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, won decisively in important southern states Oklahoma and Tennessee, and also picked up North Dakota.

Romney won his home state of Massachusetts and its neighbor, Vermont and as well as Idaho and Virginia.  Polls revealed Tuesday night that Romney narrowly defeated Santorum in Ohio.

The former Massachusetts governor faced only Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) on the Virgina ballot; Santorum and Newt Gingrich failed to place on the ballot.

Head to head with Romney in the state, Paul, a libertarian who rejects foreign assistance including for Israel, scored one of his most impressive outcomes this season: 40 percent to 60 Romney’s percent.

Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, won Georgia, the state he represented in Congress, keeping him in the race for now, although Santorum’s decisive wins in southern states Tennessee and Oklahoma seemed to dampen Gingrich’s prospect of a rally. It was too early to call Wyoming and Alaska, the ninth and tenth states voting on Tuesday.

The next primaries are in Alabama and Mississippi on March 13. 

Gingrich, Santorum and Romney each took time out of campaigning on Tuesday to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference on its last day, Santorum in person at the convention center in Washington D.C. and Romney and Gingrich via satellite.

All three took shots at President Obama for not making more clear a military threat against Iran should it not stand down from its suspected nuclear weapons program.

AIPAC did not invite Paul, who opposes increased confrontation with Iran.

In Ohio, Dennis Kucinich ended a colorful political career when redistricting in the state forced him into a primaries match with Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio.).

Kucinich, elected mayor of Cleveland in 1977 at the age of 31, emerged from obscurity 20 years later when the fiscal policies that had driven him from office in 1979 were vindicated.

Elected to Congress in 1996, he became one of its most liberal voices and one of its most consistent critics of Israel.

At the other end of the state, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) lost her Cincinnati area seat to Brad Wenstrup, a physician and Iraq War vet who had challenged her from the eight—a signal that the GOP is not moderating, considering Schmidt’s own reputation had been one of combative conservatism.

Statewide, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel easily beat off five challengers to secure the GOP’s nomination for U.S. senator.

Mandel, 34, the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, and a Marine who did two tours of duty in Iraq, now faces Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

Gabrielle Giffords returns to House, votes for debt limit deal [VIDEO]


From CBS.com:

Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona made a surprise return to Washington Monday to vote in favor of an agreement to raise the debt limit.

“Gabrielle has returned to Washington to support a bipartisan bill to prevent economic crisis,” her office said in a Tweet.

Lawmakers offered Giffords a standing ovation on the House floor when she showed up in the chamber.

Read more at CBSNews.com.

IRANIAN ELECTION ANALYSIS: All Iran candidates will bolster Hamas, Hezbollah ties


One winner has already been declared in the Iranian elections: The Internet, used by more than 23 million Iranians, or 34 percent of the population. But that figure alone cannot be used to determine which of the four candidates will win. At the very most, one can assume most Web users will vote for reformist candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi or Mehdi Karroubi, rather than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Mohsen Rezeai.

Although the presidential race is based mostly on the individual skills of the candidates, their agendas and public record are no less important. The candidates have almost insignificant differences on issues of core interest to the West and Israel. All of the candidates have said they are willing to hold a dialogue with the U.S., but say it would be gradual and depend on U.S. policy. Even Ahmadinejad has expressed his willingness to talk to the U.S. Read the full story at HAARETZ.com.

Kerry’s Lead Alters GOP Jewish Strategy


More and more, it looks as though the precipitous plunge of former Vermont governor Howard Dean will deny the Republicans what they wanted most this year: a liberal Democratic patsy for President Bush to trounce on Nov. 2.

The rise of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as the Democratic front-runner, with Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) as a respectable second, will alter a lot of plans in Bush-Cheney re-election headquarters, and that includes plans for harvesting Jewish votes. Kerry’s rise means an even more targeted Jewish GOP strategy, combined with an ongoing effort to pry Jewish campaign contributors loose from the Democrats.

It’s important to note at the outset that the GOP was never planning to mount an all-out offensive to win Jewish votes nationwide for the simple reason that with relatively few Jewish votes in play, the results would not justify the costs.

Almost every analyst agrees that Bush, benefiting from his unusually close relations with the current Israeli government and his leadership in the war on terror, will fare much better among Jewish voters than he did in 2000, when he won a paltry 19 percent of the vote. But almost no analyst, including top GOP strategists, believes he has a chance to do much better than 30-35 percent.

That’s a significant increase, with the potential to have a critical impact in a handful of states. But it’s hardly the political revolution that some pundits have predicted.

Many Republicans believe Kerry will cut into those predicted gains. Kerry, with a solidly pro-Israel record in the Senate, is expected to bring back to the Democrats some Jewish swing voters who may have been drifting to the GOP. That drift, most analysts say, would have been the greatest if Howard Dean had been the Democratic front-runner.

Dean quickly retreated from his September demand for a more balanced U.S. approach to the Middle East, but the damage was done. Such statements made him a prime target of the Jewish right, and his positions gave some middle-of-the-road Jews who put Israel high on their list of political priorities the jitters.

Kerry has not been a pro-Israel leader, but he has voted consistently for the positions advocated by the pro-Israel lobby. In addition, he has the aura of experience that leads many Jews in the political center to believe he won’t try to shake up U.S. policy in the region.

The dramatic change in the Democratic race will reinforce this year’s Jewish-GOP strategy, which will be a limited and very focused one.

Many Jews are concentrated in states where the president is unlikely to run well, and where even a significant Jewish shift is unlikely to make any real difference. That includes Maryland, New York and possibly California.

In a few other states, Bush is expected to do well in what could be very close votes — and big Jewish populations there are very much in play and very much desired by the Republicans. Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio are the states most frequently cited by GOP strategists.

The plan is obvious: focus on Jewish voters in those few swing states where the Jewish vote could make a real difference. In the rest, rely simply on cadres of Jewish Republicans and groups such as the Republican Jewish Coalition, as well as Bush’s reputation as a friend and supporter of Ariel Sharon, to produce gratifying but modest gains.

The GOP approach to Jewish voters in those targeted states will be equally narrow. It will start and end with Israel and terrorism. The president will be portrayed as the best friend Israel ever had in the White House and the leader most capable of waging a sustained, effective war against terrorism.

Republicans understand that mainstream Jews are simply not going to line up with them on domestic issues, especially the anti-government, anti-social welfare and faith-based approaches that the Bush campaign will have to ratchet up to please its conservative base.

At the same time, party activists say they will intensify their ongoing effort to pry more Jewish campaign donors from the Democrats. This is a win-win proposition for the GOP. The extra money is nice for the party, but even nicer is denying it to the Democrats, who are much more dependent on Jewish givers.

The Republicans understand the growing gap within the Jewish community, with community leaders and big political givers generally more conservative than the overall Jewish population. That represents a universe of opportunity for the GOP, and party strategists are already exploiting it.

The Jewish vote, itself, is changing much more slowly. The Republicans see a positive trend in their direction, but it will be years before they can even hope for Jewish majorities in most elections. Major impediments remain to their recruitment of Jews, starting with the GOP love affair with the Christian right.

That relationship may win the approval of Orthodox activists, but polls continue to show most American Jews fear the religious right and see it as a political adversary, not an ally.

Westside Jews Divided on Recall


Exploring the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, where Republicans once were the smallest of minorities, I happened upon a nest of recall supporters who were also great admirers of President Bush. Talking to them, I got a sense of the changing politics of Los Angeles’ Jewish community, where votes can no longer be taken for granted.

They were students of Netan Eli High School, seated around a table in the lunch-room, talking politics. I’d happened on the school the previous afternoon while looking for people to interview about the Oct. 7 election. I introduced myself to Rabbi Sholom D. Weil, the principal, and general studies principal Avi Erblich, and they were nice enough to set up a meeting with students.

Eight students were in the group: Yaakov Kurtzman, Yoni Celnik, Akiva Leyton, Mordechai Moadeb, Yosef Cohen, Michael Cohen, Daniel Mayer and Sam White. Joining us were the rabbi and Erblich.

Their school, with a student body of 30 young men, is traditional and Orthodox in its orientation. It was founded seven years ago by members of the Persian community, but in recent years has enrolled students from all parts of Jewish Los Angeles and now represents what Weil said is a cross section of the community.

Some had watched at least part of the debate the night before. "A lot of yelling," said White. "It made [Gov. Gray] Davis look good and that’s hard to do," Kurtzman said. "I liked how Arnold did," Maadeb said. "He’s an actor," Leyton replied. "He can play any role."

Remembering when Pico-Robertson was just as much a cinch to vote Democratic as the New York Yankees were to make the American League baseball playoffs every year, I was struck by the support of the recall by some of the more vocal members of the group, and the hostility toward Davis and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.

They seemed particularly riled over the way the full extent of the state’s budget crisis was not revealed by Davis until after the election. "There’s no excuse to lose that much money," Maadeb said.

Weil said, "after the election, he pulls something on us, this big, big deficit. He hid it during the election campaign. It was not a criminal act but morally speaking, it was immoral."

When I asked what they thought of Bustamante, the Democrats’ leading candidate for governor if the recall wins, the response was negative. "Do you want to vote for someone who wants to give California back to Mexico?" Mayer said.

He was referring to Bustamante’s association when he was a young man with MEChA, the Spanish acronym for Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan. Aztlan is a term used by some activists to describe the American Southwest, once part of Mexico, and MEChA rhetoric has spoken of reclaiming it.

When one student said the association occurred in Bustamante’s college days, Layton replied that people don’t "change much in 20 years."

What was most striking was the complete support for President Bush. There was no wavering, no doubts about the president. He was their man.

Elsewhere, I ran into other opinions. At Starbucks at South Robertson and Pico Boulevards, I chatted with Gary Manacher, an actor who does voice-overs. He was reading the morning papers — the Los Angeles and New York Times — when I interrupted him.

"I am categorically against the recall," he said. "If I have to live with Bush, I can certainly live with Gray."

A few days before, I visited Rabbi Robert Gan of Temple Isaiah in Rancho Park, west of Pico-Robertson. We talked in his study, where he was beginning to prepare his sermons for the High Holidays. The American Civil Liberties Union suit to delay the election until March was still alive and the rabbi was concerned with the issues it had raised.

If the recall moves ahead so swiftly, he said, it "leaves people out of the process and it is something we should be concerned with." Moreover, he said, "if you don’t like a person … vote him out next time." The recall process, he said, is "very scary."

Obviously, opinion in the once largely Democratic Los Angeles Jewish community is divided on the recall. Since I’m writing this more than a week before the election (we have early deadlines here at The Journal), I’m not going to be stupid enough to guess about the outcome.

But think beyond the recall. My conversation with the eight young men at Natan Eli High School indicated something. They were smart and well-informed. Their convictions were well-rooted and, as demonstrated by their feelings about President Bush, most friendly to the Republicans.

They may very well carry their beliefs through life, probably spreading them, as they move on to college, jobs, family and community life. Is this what Ronald Reagan used to call a prairie fire?


Bill Boyarsky’s column on Jews
and civic life appears on the first Friday of each month. Until leaving the Los
Angeles Times in 2001, Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a metro
columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him
at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.

Are Jews Becoming Republican?


The debate over whether American Jews are turning to the Republican Party is not likely to be settled when the votes are counted on Nov. 5.

With midterm congressional elections just days away, Republicans cite a variety of reasons why this year’s polls may not show the political shift they have been predicting for the past year. But Democrats say the election will be the best sign yet of where Jews stand on the political spectrum.

It’s hardly a new debate. For years, Republican Jewish leaders have touted increasing support from the Jewish community, while exit polls continue to show that most Jews vote Democratic. Still, with a Republican president who is strongly pro-Israel and Republican voices in Congress taking the lead in support of Israel and the U.S. war on terrorism, the issue has garnered notice in mainstream media. While several indicators hint at a trend, little information exists to make a definitive assessment. That makes Election Day an important test for both sides of the argument. Any Jewish movement toward the GOP would strike at one of the Democrats’ strongest voting blocs at a time when Congress is almost evenly divided.

Jews make up only about 2 percent of the U.S. population, but they are valuable in elections because of their high voter turnout and their geographical disbursement, said Norman Ornstein, an election analyst with the American Enterprise Institute.

“You have a lot of Jewish votes in a number of pivotal states and ones that are contentious,” Ornstein said. Plus, Jews often are political leaders and key fundraisers.

The habits of Jewish voters have been a curiosity for years.

“It’s a puzzle,” said Ken Goldstein, assistant professor of political science and Jewish studies at the University of Wisconsin. “Given their education levels, income levels and color of skin, Jews should look like Republican voters” — but, historically, they haven’t. During the 1990s, for example, Democrats won at least 73 percent of the Jewish vote in House races. Within the last two decades, Jewish support for Democratic congressional candidates peaked at 82 percent in 1982, according to The New York Times. The high point for the GOP was the 32 percent of the Jewish vote in House races in 1988.

But Matthew Brooks, Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) executive director, points to an RJC survey, showing that 48 percent of Jews surveyed said they would consider voting for President Bush for reelection in 2004. The poll also found that Bush’s performance moved 27 percent to say they were more likely to vote for Republicans for other offices.

Despite such figures and articles describing a GOP tilt among Jews, Jewish Democratic leaders say the perception is wrong.

In the past, Jewish voters have feared that voting Republican would mean embracing a conservative domestic agenda, such as opposition to abortion and support for school prayer. Now, some say, closer ties between the Jewish community and right-wing Christian supporters of Israel has opened some doors.

Ira Forman, National Jewish Democratic Council executive director, says that especially during times of Mideast crisis, Jewish voting patterns reflect concern for Israel more than domestic agendas.

Given strong Israel support by Bush and congressional Republicans, it has created a perception of a Jewish-GOP embrace.

But, Forman contends, Jewish voters most often don’t have to make that choice. More often, he says, they’re deciding between pro-Israel Democrats and pro-Israel or neutral Republicans. When both candidates are either pro-Israel or neutral, Jews lean toward the Democrats because of domestic issues.

Forman also says that Jewish votes for GOP candidates don’t necessarily reflect a shift rightward.

A Gallup Organization study found that the partisan slant of the Jewish vote has remained stable over the past decade.

No poll has enough Jewish respondents to mark a trend. But, extrapolating from its polls in the past 18 months, Gallup found that some 50 percent of Jewish voters are Democrats, 32 percent are independent and 18 percent are Republicans. That mirrors Gallup polls taken between 1992 and 2001.

Frank Newport of Gallup said patterns of party identification are very stable.

Goldstein says this Election Day may not resolve the question of Jewish voting habits, since many of key races are in states with small Jewish populations. He believes the presidential race in 2004 will be a more important indicator.

But Democrats counter that even that won’t be a fair judge, because Bush’s Mideast policy and his handling of the war against terrorism have made him popular with Jewish voters. Jews may vote for other Republicans because they support Bush, not because they’ve had a real change of heart, Forman says.

All of which means that the debate is likely to go on after November, come what may at the polls.

How Jewish Voters Still Count


You really did read it here first: That the Los Angeles mayoral primary, with six formidable contenders, would come down to a June 5 mayoral face-off between the Eastside kid, former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, and the son of liberal Los Angeles, James Kenneth Hahn, was predicted in this column several months ago. No, I’m not a fortune-teller. But as my grandfather would say, "I do know my customer, the Jewish voter."

Tuesday’s election results assert that the Jewish "customer" still counts, now more than ever, in the even playing field that is L.A. politics.

As the Los Angeles Times exit poll reveals, Jewish voters are a huge chunk of the declining white electorate — 17 percent, or one in three. Villaraigosa’s successful re-creation of the progressive Tom Bradley coalition joining a rising ethnic minority — in this case, Latinos who Tuesday made up 21 percent of the vote — and liberal whites, was largely dependent upon Jews.

It will remain for another time to analyze just how Jews influenced both the tone and outcome of the primary; how the upscale Jewish voter found comfort with a candidate who himself, at least in part, reflects the immigrant-laden union politics that dominates some segments of Latino Los Angeles.

At the moment, the big story is that Jews rushed to embrace an encompassing, ethnic vision of our city rather than a white-dominated conservative, pro-business view. For those who had criticized the Jewish "establishment" for ignoring Latino causes, Tuesday’s answer was, we still have heart.

Also on Tuesday, and just as I predicted, the two Jewish mayoral candidates killed each other off in appealing to the city’s conservative voters.

However, real estate developer Steve Soboroff and veteran City Councilman Joel Wachs did not split the Jewish vote. What interested me this week was that liberal voters in the San Fernando Valley joined their fellows on the Westside in support of Villaraigosa. Yes, there are liberal Jews in the Valley; a fact that, among other things, should be a warning to those aching for a separate Valley city.

Soboroff and Wachs split the Valley’s rebellious conservative voter. There are plenty of them, but not for two candidates. Soboroff and Wachs jointly pulled 32 percent, compared with Villaraigosa’s 30 percent, guaranteeing that the notorious enmity between the two will continue. Together, Wachs and Soboroff destroyed the Riordan coalition that in 1993 brought many Jews into the Republican column for the first time. We’ll be watching to see a) how Hahn moves to the right; b) how the son of beloved county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, with his traditional black base in the central city, appeals to Valley voters; and c) how the predicted endorsement of Hahn by Villaraigosa’s former buddy, Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, influences the mix.

As I made the rounds of election headquarters late Tuesday, it was clear what strange bedfellows our urban politics have created.

I was at Soboroff’s Radisson hotel headquarters in Sherman Oaks at 10:30 p.m., in time to see the fortunes of Richard Riordan’s chosen successor go south, leaving some of his supporters muttering that the results must have come in from "East L.A."

Then at 11:15 p.m., before joining the huge Antonio lovefest at Union Station, I was over at the Holiday Inn off Vineland, to find Wachs, his shirt still pressed and his hair unrumpled despite a depressing evening, embracing the last few stragglers of well-wishers.

"I should have stressed the arts connection more," Wachs conceded.

In fact, Wachs has reasons for regret. From any perspective, he and Villaraigosa ran the most interesting, and complex, campaigns, almost mirror images of each other in their attraction of opposite political bases.

As a friend of mine, Jonathan Zasloff, a UCLA law professor, has noted, in any other city Wachs would have been the "liberal" candidate, with the greatest appeal to Jews. His natural constituency includes gays, Hollywood, the rent-control crowd and the MOCA/LACMA/Bergamot axis interested in a vision of Los Angeles in which arts and lifestyle are more than music CDs from Starbucks. Yes, this is the Ed Koch guard, and it is larger than the paltry 11 percent who rallied this week behind the councilman. Yet Wachs, who reiterated that he intends to leave local politics after his L.A. City Council term ends in two years, projected himself too narrowly. He seems to suffer from a failure of will, never making his interests seem what they are, critical to humane life in our tense metropolis.

There are so many stories to be told in the historic cobbling together of Villaraigosa’s new coalition. One surprising wrinkle: the appeal of the Latino candidate to Russian Jewish voters.

"I found Antonio to be wonderful in person, genuine, honest — almost painfully so," attorney Boris Gorbis told me, recalling his first meeting with the man who might be Los Angeles’ first Latino mayor in nearly 130 years. Soboroff had targeted the Russians, assuming that this group’s long-standing affiliation with conservative candidates meant they’d go for him.

"When you grow up an outsider in the seaside Ukrainian city of Odessa, you know you’re not included," Gorbis told me. "Villaraigosa had a similar experience here in L.A."

"There are similarities in our stories that transcended the divides," Gorbis said.

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