Menu JTA Search

In Wake of Super Tuesday Races, Jewish Vote is Still Up for Grabs

SIGN UP FOR THE JTA DAILY BRIEFING

The results of Super Tuesday may mean that large numbers of Jewish voters will find it hard to decide who to support in the November presidential election.

Vice President George Bush, who swept the Republican primaries, winning about half of the 1,139 delegates he needs for the nomination at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans in July, is viewed with suspicion by many in the Jewish community, despite his many statements of support for Israel.

On the Democratic side, the Rev. Jesse Jackson emerged with about 350 delegates, just behind Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, who won 360 delegates, and ahead of Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee, who won about 320. This ensures that Jackson will have an important voice, if not the deciding one, at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta this August.

Jews who voted Tuesday did so mainly in the Democratic primaries and appeared to go over whelmingly for Dukakis.

In Florida, which Dukakis won, exit polls found that eight out of 10 Jews voted for the Massachusetts governor.

Jews, who make up 4.7 percent of the Florida population, are concentrated in the southeast part of the state, from Miami to Palm Beach. The majorities are retirees from the Northeast and they turn out in large numbers for any election.

Dukakis, who’s wife, Kitty, is Jewish, also won in the two other Super Tuesday states in which Jews account for more than 4 percent of the population: his home state of Massachusetts and Maryland.

Whether Dukakis is the first choice of most Jewish Democrats could become clearer next Tuesday in the Illinois primary and especially in the April 19 New York primary.

Another sign would be if his victories Tuesday in the South bring in campaign contributions from wealthy liberal Jews in New York and Los Angeles, who have remained so far on the sidelines.

Gore is also making a concentrated effort in the Jewish community. He has a record of strong support for Israel, as do all the candidates, except for Jackson.

On the Republican side, the candidate with the most appeal to Jewish voters, Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, was virtually eliminated. Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole of Kansas also has a record of a long rapport with the Jewish community, but unless he wins Illinois, the Republican nomination will be wrapped up by Bush.

BUSH’S IMAGE PROBLEM

Bush’s problem with the Jewish community is more perception than reality. He has continuously echoed the Reagan administration’s strong support for Israel and has backing in the Jewish community, including such important leaders as Max Fisher and Gordon Zacks.

But many in the Jewish community, noting the vice president’s friendship with Saudi Arabia, fear that a Bush presidency could mean a return to the “even-handed” policy of the State Department Arabists.

Bush was critical of Israel during its 1982 invasion of Lebanon and after it bombed an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981. He was quoted as saying during the 1985 TWA hostage-taking incident that Israel should release “people being held against international law,” a reference to Lebanese Shiite prisoners being held by Israel.

In defending his role in the secret U.S. sale of arms to Iran, Bush has seemed to place the blame on Israel.

At the same time, Bush has been a leading administration spokesman to the American Jewish community. When there were charges of dual loyalty because of Jewish opposition to the sale of AWACS to Saudi Arabia in 1981, it was Bush who publicly refuted the charges. It was also Bush who personally arranged the rescue of thousands of Ethiopian Jews in 1984 and 1985.

Bush’s problem for the Republicans in the Jewish community may be offset by the problem that Jackson presents the Democrats.

No one expects that Jackson will be on the ticket, either as a candidate for president or vice president. But his showing Tuesday and his possible victory in Illinois next week, means that he could decide who is.

WHAT DOES JACKSON WANT?

The big question everyone asks is “what does Jesse Jackson want?” a question which he refuses to answer for the present. If Jackson seeks influence only on domestic issues, then much of what he says poses no problem for the Jewish community and would probably find support among many Jews.

But if he wants influence on foreign policy, this could hurt the Democrats, and not only in the Jewish community. Jackson repeatedly says that he wants to bring about a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict through negotiations, although he appears to place the chief burden for talks on Israel. He is the only candidate who favors talking to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the creation of a Palestinian state.

But although Jackson has sought to reach out to the Jewish community, by toning down the rhetoric of his 1984 campaign and stressing his support for a secure Israel, many in the Jewish community distrust him.

They point to his anti-Israel statements of the past, his meeting with PLO leader Yasir Arafat, his remark labeling New York “Hymietown” and his ties during the 1984 campaign to Rev. Louis Farrakhan, the Black Muslim leader who has made several anti-Semitic remarks.

The other factor in the race is the Rev. Pat Robertson, whose position on social issues, including attacks on important provisions of the constitutional separation of church and state, worry many Jews. Robertson, who did poorly Tuesday, said he plans to continue in the race.

Although he is not expected to win many delegates in the upcoming primaries, neither Bush nor Dole want to alienate his supporters.

The Jewish vote, which is not monolithic, appears to be up for grabs. For the rest of the primary campaign, issues important to Jews will play a more prominent part in the race than it has up to now.

NEXT STORY