Republicans Launch Campaign to Win Jewish Votes for Bush

The Bush Quayle campaign won less than 30 percent of the Jewish vote in 1988 and has no expectation of winning a majority this time around.

But GOP campaign operatives made clear this week the re-election team is determined to win back disaffected and undecided Jewish voters by laying out a record of accomplishment they will find hard to dismiss.

“I wouldn’t suggest it won’t be an uphill battle in the Jewish community,” Tony Mitchell, the campaign’s deputy press secretary, said at a small briefing Monday for the Jewish press, “but a lot has been accomplished (and) a lot can happen between now” and November.

Pointing out that Secretary of State James Baker was in Jerusalem this week and that Israel’s new prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, “portends great change,” Mitchell said, “We’re talking about a dynamic, not a static situation.”

Said another campaign official: If Democratic nominee Bill Clinton “thinks he’s going to get 90 percent of the Jewish vote,” he is mistaken.

The center of the Bush-Quayle campaign’s effort to woo Jewish votes is a deal over Israel’s longstanding request for billions of dollars of U.S.-guaranteed loans to help aid immigrant absorption.

Hammering out such a deal was said to be high on Baker’s agenda this week during his visit to Jerusalem. Baker said that Rabin’s willingness to curtail settlement activity in the territories would facilitate an agreement on the guarantees, and he hinted he would exact concessions from Arab leaders in return.

But campaign officials emphasized at the briefing Monday that the loan issue is only part of the sales pitch. They said the campaign will work in the next few months to convince Jewish voters not only that Bush has a solid record of performance but that he has close Jewish friends and Jews at the highest levels of influence in the administration and the campaign.

MAY BE HARD TO ERASE ILL WILL

They will remind voters that Bush exerted his leadership to win repeal of the 1975 U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning Zionism; that he helped secure the secret airlift of Ethiopian Jews to Israel and the emigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union; that he guaranteed Israel’s security during the Persian Gulf War and led a coalition that crippled Saddam Hussein, whom campaign officials called “the No. 1 security threat to Israel.”

They will also point out that Bush spear-headed the Arab-Israeli peace process, which they say is “in Israel’s best interest in the long run.”

But the Republicans have their work cut out for them. Tensions have run high since last September, when Bush criticized the pro-Israel lobby for agitating on behalf of the loan guarantees.

And while Jewish leaders have responded to administration efforts to defuse those tensions, it may be hard to erase the ill will created by Bush’s insistence that former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir halt Jewish settlements in order to receive the loan guarantees.

Clinton has exploited Bush’s inflexibility on the guarantees as evidence his administration has a pro-Arab tilt and has inflicted serious damage on the “special” U.S.-Israel relationship.

The Arkansas governor has won a warm response from Jewish audiences for promising to repair the damage and restore Israel’s faith in America’s friendship.

Meanwhile, Democratic Party officials have taken great pains to welcome Jews, disaffected by the prominence of pro-Palestinian forces in the party in previous years, back to their fold. They drafted the most pro-Israel platform in recent memory and orchestrated a convention in which Jews and Jewish groups were highly visible.

NO PRO-ARAB TILT

But a Bush campaign official at Monday’s briefing urged Jews to be cautious, saying they should judge Bush’s performance rather than Clinton’s promises.

“It is nonsense to say that Bush has an Arab tilt,” said the official, who spoke on back ground.

He argued that the Arab-Israeli peace talks are a direct result of Bush’s personal involvement and that it is “not in the Arab interest to sit down face to face with Israel.”

The official also challenged whether Jews and the Jewish agenda have been authentically integrated by the Democrats or are being manipulated for political gain.

He said Jews should find it troubling that of all the speakers at last week’s Democratic convention, the only one who mentioned Israel was Jesse Jackson, despite a Clinton speech he called “almost a U.N. roll call.”

“We’re willing to put our message front and center,” he said.

Some of the most prominent participants in the Jewish outreach campaign will include Vice President Dan Quayle, Housing Secretary Jack Kemp, former Sen. Rudy Boschwitz of Minnesota and Republican Jewish leader Max Fisher.

The campaign official also stressed the “inherent sensitivity” toward Jews of those at the top of the re-election campaign, including Robert Mosbacher, Bob Teeter and Fred Malek.

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