Diplomacy Based On 2004 Election
IF I WAS A PALESTINIAN MILITANT (OR CIVILIAN) I'LD BE VERY QUIET
'TILL AFTER THE 2004 ELECTION!
Some see Jewish shift toward GOP
By Anne E. Kornblut, Globe Staff, 5/7/2003
ASHINGTON -- The Jewish community responded enthusiastically when Senator Joseph I.
Lieberman joined the presidential ticket in 2000, a move many saw as recognition of their long
support for the party of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. As they had for every election in
decades, Jewish voters overwhelmingly cast their ballots for the Democrats.
But after a year and a half of strong statements
from President Bush about fighting terrorism,
along with his equally strong backing of Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, some prominent
analysts in both parties say they detect a shift in
the Jewish community. For the first time in more
than 20 years, one Democratic pollster said he
sensed an erosion of support from Jewish
activists that could affect the presidential race.
And according to researchers at B'nai Brith,
younger Jewish Americans seem more likely to
lean Republican than their parents.
Younger Jews do not have the attachment to
defining moments in Democratic history like the
New Deal that their parents and grandparents do,
making them more open to consider voting for a
Republican candidate, the researchers said.
''Our conclusion is, there's going to be a fight for the Jewish vote in 2004,'' said Jay Garfinkel, executive
editor of the B'nai Brith magazine International Jewish Monthly, which is publishing the report.
There is already ''a detectable shift in the Jewish community, in terms of their openness and willingness to
support Republican candidates,'' said Matthew Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition. ''Right now
we're on a path, looking at 2004, where we're going to see, I think, that increase in Jewish support
continue.'' Not all Jewish voters support the Sharon government, which has taken a hard-line approach in
the Palestinian territories to rout out Terrorism
and has been reluctant to stop settlement activity, a key
component of the peace process. Also, it is never simple to measure opinions in the Jewish community,
where views of the most outspoken leaders are not always shared at the grass roots. Political scientists also
differ in their assessment of how much opinions have changed.
But one prominent Democratic pollster, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that some Jewish
activists and fund-raisers have been lured to consider supporting Bush by his forceful response to terrorism,
an issue that resonates deeply with supporters of Israel and people who have traveled there.
Bush has sided with Israel repeatedly, referring to Sharon as a ''man of peace'' last year and demanding
that all terrorist attacks stop before the peace process moves ahead. In response, the American Israel
Public Affairs Committee has issued more than a dozen statements over the last year and a half,
''applauding'' Bush for his support of Israel, one sign of the evolving relationship between Bush and the
In standing up to other countries, Bush has struck a chord with some Jewish voters, who may be liberal on
social issues but are generally hawkish on foreign policy, according to University of Virginia political
scientist Larry Sabato.
''I think some Jewish voters have been attracted to Bush's strength and national security stands beyond
Israel,'' he said. ''They prefer a strong foreign policy leader to a weak one, and we've seen this before in
previous highs among Jews voting Republican. There's certainly a precedent for this.
''It's part of the Bush-Rove strategy of marginal gains,'' Sabato said. ''They're not going to carry the
Jewish-American vote, but they can increase their performance from 2000, and in so doing make it much
more difficult for a Democrat to win.''
The Democratic pollster agreed, saying: ''Right after Sept. 11, there were polls that said Jews liked Bush.
Well, everyone liked Bush then.
''Having said that, there has been some erosion on the part of community influentials, leaders, even some
money people,'' he said. ''At the highest echelon [of leadership], there has been some erosion, but that is not
evident in the general public.''
Republicans have been trying to lay claim to the Jewish vote for years. With the exception of the Reagan
election in 1980 -- in which estimates suggest he earned 39 percent of the Jewish vote, compared with 45
percent for Jimmy Carter -- there have been wide gaps between Republicans and Democrats for decades.
Other estimates say George H.W. Bush won just 11 percent of the Jewish vote, compared with 9 percent
for Ross Perot and 80 percent for Bill Clinton. In the last election, George W. Bush won just 19 percent of
the Jewish vote, and Al Gore won 78 percent, estimates say.
Bush faced deep distrust from the Jewish community when he came to office, largely because of his past
statements about Judaism. In an infamous incident in 1990, Bush told his mother he did not believe that
Jews can get into heaven, prompting Barbara Bush to call a close family friend, the Rev. Billy Graham, to
set her son straight. Graham reportedly told Bush that such decisions are up to God, an answer that
apparently changed Bush's mind, but did not help his case among Jewish voters when he ran for president.
Yet religion has played a role in helping draw Bush closer to the Jewish community. Unwavering support
for Israel is an important conviction among evangelical Christians, who interpret the Bible to mean that,
among other things, the country belongs to the Jewish people. That has created an occasional and, at times,
awkward alignment between Republican Christians such as Bush and more liberal Jews, though their
religious beliefs vastly differ.
Still, Democrats who concede that Bush is making inroads with Jewish voters portray it as a corrective
shift, with Jews returning to their previous voting patterns.
''I expect the Republican vote in the Jewish community will go up slightly, to the levels it was in the 1970s
and '80s,'' said Ira Forman, director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. He denied that there is any
tectonic shift taking place, saying that it was unrealistic to expect Democrats to continue beating
Republicans among Jews by ratios of 4 to 1, as they did in the 1990s.
At the same time, ''a lot of things can happen between now and Election Day,'' Forman said.