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America Decides 2004 in New Hampshire, Jews, Like Many, Wait Till the Very Last Minute to Decide

Now that the race for the Democratic nomination for president is moving south and west, it is expected to gather even more national attention — and greater scrutiny.

Seven states go to the polls next week, including Arizona, which has 81,500 Jews, and Missouri, which has 62,500 Jews, according to the American Jewish Year Book.

For several months, the seven presidential candidates have focused their attention in large part on the Granite State, giving New Hampshire Jews ample opportunity to gauge the contenders and choose their favorite.

Not that courting the state’s 10,000 Jews was a priority. None of the candidates made an appearance at the annual “Deli Night” Saturday night at Temple Adath Yeshurun in Manchester. The organizers had moved the event a month earlier because of the political season, and even invited President Bush to attend. Bush’s father came 12 years ago when he was the incumbent president running for re-election.

The temple also had to cancel its traditional breakfast with the candidates on Sunday, two days before Tuesday’s primary, because only Gen. Wesley Clark had confirmed an appearance. It was the first time that the event had been cancelled in anyone’s recollection, local Jews said.

Jews here had other opportunities to see the candidates up close, and like their fellow citizens in New Hampshire, many waited to the last minute before backing a candidate. Many also said they chose the candidate they believed could best defeat President Bush in November. Some Jewish voters said they abandoned a favored contender for one who was more viable to win in November.

“The idea of having Bush for four more years made me compromise my values,” Cooper said.

“I think he has a focus now,” said Michael Kasten, an attorney in Manchester. “He didn’t have a focus when he started, but he’s focused a lot more.”

Sol Rockenmacher donned his “Clark for President” pin at Deli Night. He said Clark had proven himself as a real leader and that is what’s needed in the country right now.

“I like his approach that war is the last resort,” said Rockenmacher, a pediatric cardiologist.

Dean had enjoyed strong support in the Jewish community here, but it has dwindled in the last several weeks, mirroring the trend in the state at large.

“I think we need a dramatic change in this country,” said Frances Gehling, a former teacher in Londonderry. “Dean is the only one who has shown the moral courage and the integrity to stand up and say the right thing when it’s not popular.”

Jews who backed Lieberman insisted their shared religion was not a factor.

“It has nothing to do with the fact that he’s Jewish,” said Moshe Shpindler, a restaurateur in Manchester who was born in Israel. “He’s really straightforward and honest.”

On the Saturday before the primary in Manchester, Shpindler prayed with Lieberman at the home of Manchester’s Lubavitch rabbi.

“He gave Joe the sixth aliyah, the most honorable,” Shpindler said. “We sat down and had kiddush and shmoozed.”

Several Jews who supported other candidates said they had considered Lieberman but didn’t think he could win the Democratic nomination or defeat President Bush in November.

Adam Solendar, executive director of the Jewish Federation for Greater Manchester, said Tuesday that he had spoken to several Jews who went into the voting booth planning to pick either Dean or Kerry, but then cast their ballot for Lieberman. Solendar said they all decided in the end that they should not exclude Lieberman because he was Jewish, and they determined his views were the closest to theirs.

Lieberman skipped the Iowa caucuses and campaigned heavily in New Hampshire, even renting an apartment in the state’s largest city.

In the days before the primary, Lieberman claimed he would do “better than expected,” in part because of the state’s high number of independents, who can vote in the party primary.

Lieberman campaign officials already were plotting strategy for the Feb. 3 contests, with the candidate ready with plane tickets for several of next week’s primary states for late Tuesday, after the New Hampshire results were announced.

Lieberman essentially needs to win a state on Feb. 3 to remain in the Democratic contest. Democratic National Committee National Chairman Terry McAuliffe has said that any candidate who has not won a state by that time should drop out, and Lieberman has made similar comments.

Lieberman has invested considerable resources in the states that go to the polls Feb. 3, which also include Oklahoma, South Carolina, New Mexico, North Dakota and Delaware. The Missouri contest has heated up in recent weeks, now that native son Rep. Richard Gephardt has dropped out of the race and has yet to endorse a candidate.

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