NEW YORK, Nov. 8 (JTA) – Not surprisingly, the raucous Hillary2000 celebration in New York was teeming with Jewish supporters.
What was surprising, though, is that Hillary Clinton fared much worse with the all-important Jewish voting bloc – it reportedly constituted 14 percent of the New York electorate – than what the conventional wisdom suggested was necessary for a Democrat to win.
Three different polls said it was 58-41, 56-43 and 53-45 in Clinton’s favor, but some pundits and pollsters said she would need to win at least two- thirds.
Nevertheless, Clinton coasted to a landmark victory over her Republican opponent, Rick Lazio, by 56 to 44 percent.
In perhaps the most closely watched Senate race in the country, Clinton became the first lady ever elected to public office.
A media crush of more than 500 was on hand at the tony Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan, and thousands and thousands of campaign staffers, local movers-and-shakers and ordinary backers flowed throughout the hotel to celebrate.
In the grand ballroom where Clinton would later give her victory speech, flanked by the president and their daughter, Chelsea, the crowd was packed so tight, the Fire Marshal sealed off the room to further admittance.
Hundreds strained to get through the metal detectors and catch at least a glimpse.
While her victory was declared early, later in the evening, the festive mood was tempered and even punctured by the struggle of the Gore-Lieberman ticket.
Meanwhile, on the matter of Clinton and “the Jewish vote,” a canvassing of the crowd found Jewish opinion plentiful and varied.
Clinton is either loved or hated by voters, a polarization reflected among Jews as well.
While many share her liberal values, some Jews view her as pro- Palestinian, or resented her “carpetbagging,” or are angered by her stance against school vouchers – an issue popular among Orthodox Jews.
“The more conservative voters were the more vocal,” said Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the North American Boards of Rabbis, but “in the end, her views mirrored the views of mainstream New York Jewry.”
Among the Orthodox, who often tend to be more politically conservative, Clinton had her share of backers, including among the fervently Orthodox. At the madhouse celebration Tuesday night, there was a smattering of black hats and peyos.
“Bill Clinton never hated Jews, so I was never concerned that Hillary might hate Jews,” said Rabbi Leib Glanz, a Satmar Chasid from Brooklyn.
While Lazio’s support for school vouchers galvanized many in the Orthodox community, he said the people he knew who voted for Lazio did so “not because they knew of him before, or believed in him, but because they wanted to vote for someone from New York.”
On the other hand, at least one Jewish observer said Clinton’s outsider status likely helped her.
“Specifically because she was an outsider, she either understood or was compelled to listen very carefully to New Yorkers,” Irwin Kula, president of CLAL – the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, said Wednesday morning.
“It would have been very easy for her to concentrate on New York City, but she went out of her way, almost, to go upstate and sit and listen to people.”
“She was able to project a sense of inclusiveness.”
Back at Tuesday’s shindig, a middle-aged Clinton supporter, Lucile Kleiman, offered her perspective on some of the hostility toward the candidate, from both Jews and non-Jews.
“Feminists felt she should have left her husband” after the Monica Lewinsky imbroglio, Kleiman said, “while sexists thought she should stand by her man, do her wifely duties and not be too ambitious” by running for public office.
Kleiman, however, described herself as “delighted” and “relieved” by Clinton’s electoral success, and was confident the senator-elect would well represent the interests of Jewish and non-Jewish New Yorkers alike.
“I’ve always thought she would fight fairly and squarely for anybody, not just Jews. When she’ll be in the Senate, I know that when she raises her hand, she’ll be raising it for issues that are best for this nation.”