Jewish Vote Was Key to Clinton Win, Brown Defeat in New York Primary
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Jewish Vote Was Key to Clinton Win, Brown Defeat in New York Primary

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The Jewish vote was decisive in pushing Bill Clinton to the top and Jerry Brown to the bottom in Tuesday’s New York state primary, according to exit polls.

The polls placed the Jewish vote at more than 50 percent for Clinton, 35 percent for Paul Tsongas and a meager 10 percent for Brown.

Overall, Clinton won 41 percent, Tsongas 29 and Brown 26 in the New York Democratic primary. Clinton similarly placed first in the Kansas, Minnesota and Wisconsin primaries, which were also held Tuesday. But Brown beat out Tsongas for second place in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Without New York’s Jewish voters, who made up a quarter of those voting here Tuesday, Brown would have placed second, midway between Clinton and Tsongas.

Analyzing the results the morning after, Jewish observers drew two lessons from the returns:

First, Clinton has decisively established himself as the Jewish community’s favorite candidate, through both his support of Israel and his determined outreach effort.

Second, Jesse Jackson, whom Brown picked as his top choice for a running mate, remains “an albatross” around the neck of any candidate who embraces him, in the words of David Zwiebel, director of government affairs for Agudath Israel of America.

“What stands out is Brown’s poor showing,” said David Singer, director of research for the American Jewish Committee. “Clearly, Brown was hurt by indicating Jackson was going to be his candidate.”

The former California governor’s poor showing Tuesday “speaks more than I can say. His choosing of Jackson was not only impolitic, but showed a lack of sensitivity,” said Mandell Ganchrow, who ran as a Clinton delegate.


“There are a lot of blacks whom Brown could have chosen to bring people together; this was waving a red flag before the Jewish community,” said Ganchrow, who also heads a pro-Israel political action committee and chairs the Institute of Public Affairs of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

Jo-Ann Mort, a member of the national board of Americans for Peace Now, said she feared the anti-Jackson backlash “doesn’t bode well for race relations in New York City.

“There needs to be a serious healing process and dialogue between the Jewish community and Jesse Jackson, as an important leader in the African-American community,” she said.

Brown did well in the black community, which split its vote almost evenly between the former California governor and Clinton. Blacks, however, turned out proportionately less than did the rest of the electorate.

In contrast to Brown’s grass-roots, somewhat ragtag campaign, Clinton has made a concerted effort to court Jewish voters over a number of months.

Until late last week, Brown was the only major Democratic candidate who had not addressed a Jewish forum in New York.

And by the time Brown did address the New York Jewish Community Relations Council, where his pick of Jackson exploded as an issue, Clinton had already made several appearances before several different Jewish constituencies in the previous week.

These included an appearance at a Jewish Museum exhibit on blacks and Jews in Manhattan’s generally liberal Upper West Side neighborhood, and one before the Council of Jewish Organizations in the generally conservative Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, where he honored Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.), one of the Democrats who backed the war against Iraq.


“Clinton has succeeded in allaying whatever fears the Jewish community may have had,” said William Rapfogel, outgoing executive director of the Orthodox Union’s Institute of Public Affairs.

Among those who are comfortable with the Arkansas governor are Democrats who voted for Ronald Reagan and George Bush, first because of President Jimmy Carter’s perceived harshness to Israel and then because of the Reagan administration’s pro-Israel tilt.

With U.S.-Israel ties the lowest in decades and the Bush administration being blamed, these voters have been looking for a Democrat to support.

“This will be the first election since Lyndon Johnson in which I will not vote for a Republican presidential candidate,” said Ganchrow.

But Clinton also drew support from Jews who likely would have voted Democratic even had the White House approved unconditional loan guarantees to Israel.

Well before this week’s primary and Clinton’s recent swing through New York, a good proportion of Clinton’s money came from Jewish business leaders, investment bankers and Wall Street investors, said Robert Lifton, a businessman who is president of the American Jewish Congress, one of the more liberal American Jewish organizations.

This Jewish support “was a huge factor in his ability to move strongly forward in his campaign,” said Lifton.

The vote for Tsongas, a former senator from Massachusetts who put his campaign on hold after the Illinois and Michigan primaries, was seen generally as a protest vote, drawing Jewish voters unwilling to choose Brown as their protest candidate.

Former New York Mayor Ed Koch had urged a Tsongas vote, with the aim of throwing open the Democratic convention.

Gary Rubin, director of national affairs for the American Jewish Committee, said the Jewish Tsongas vote parallels the 1980 elections, where Jews were disproportionately likely to vote for Rep. John Anderson, who ran as an independent.

“It’s a trend we’ve seen before, that we ought to take some cognizance of,” said Rubin. “Jews are more likely than other groups to use a vote for protest, rather than deal with the reality of the choice they actually face.”

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