Previewing Chesapeake Tuesday

JTA’s Ben Harris has a preview of tomorrow’s slate of primaries, including a look into the fight for Maryland’s Jewish votes and the Obama camp’s efforts to head off any upset over the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Jim Moran.

NEW YORK (JTA) – The Obama and Clinton campaigns have squared off in a fight for the Jewish vote in Maryland, the next state with a sizable Jewish population to have its say in the fiercely contested Democratic primary.

At the same time, an endorsement in Virginia has the Obama camp racing to reassure Jewish voters there.

More than 200 delegates are at stake in Tuesday’s primary, when voters in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia head to the polls in one of the last big days of Democratic voting.

In Virginia, the Obama campaign was working to head off any potential fallout over the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), a controversial figure in Jewish circles for repeated statements claiming that Jewish support pushed the United States into the Iraq war.

The Obama campaign issued a statement distancing the Illinois senator from Moran, but nevertheless accepted his endorsement. Moran appeared with Obama at a campaign rally Sunday in Virginia.

“Senator Obama has received the support of millions of Americans who are inspired by his vision for change, and he welcomes that support,” the statement said. “There are clear instances where he disagrees with views expressed by individual supporters, and that is the case with Congressman Moran’s comments on the Jewish community’s role in the decision to wage war in Iraq.

“Senator Obama is proud of his close and longstanding ties to the Jewish community, and blames Washington’s failed conventional thinking for a war in Iraq that should never have been authorized, and never have been waged.”

On Saturday, however, Obama had much kinder words for Moran at the Virginia Democratic Party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner. Obama thanked Moran, calling him a “wonderful congressman and a great friend.”

U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) also appeared at the dinner and acknowledged Moran along with other Virginia Congress members.

Asked about the apparent discrepancy, an Obama campaign official said there would be no further comment on the matter.

“I think the statement that we put out on Congressman Moran speaks for itself,” the official said.

“It sounds like Obama needs to keep explaining his supporters,” said a pro-Clinton Democratic consultant in Washington, noting Obama’s ties to a Chicago pastor who has spoken critically about Israel, and foreign policy consultant Zbigniew Brzezinski, an adviser to Jimmy Carter seen as cool to Israel.

“How many times is he going to have to explain the exceptions that he takes with the people he chooses to have around him?” the consultant asked.

Jack Moline, a rabbi from Alexandria, Va., told JTA he believed Obama’s response to the Moran affair would figure more prominently in the calculations of Virginia Jews than the Moran endorsement itself.

“I think frankly that Virginia Jews have written Congressman Moran off and his endorsement or lack thereof really doesn’t mean that much to the voting patterns of Jews in Virginia,” Moline said. “What I do think is how Senator Obama responds to this endorsement could work very much to his benefit if he’s willing to stand up and say the things that need to be said about Congressman Moran’s rhetoric.”

In Maryland, the State Attorney General Douglas Gansler, five state lawmakers, two officials of suburban Montgomery County and a host of Jewish leaders signed on to an e-mail letter backing Obama ahead of Tuesday’s primary.

“The time for change, the time for a leader who will heal, unify and make the world a better, kinder and safer place for our children, grandchildren is NOW,” said the e-mail sent to Maryland Jews. “We believe that Barack Obama is such a leader.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) met with area rabbis on Thursday to urge them to support Hillary Clinton. A longtime friend of the Jewish community, Mikulski has been a vocal advocate of federal funding to protect non-profit institutions from terrorist threats, support that won her an award from the Orthodox Union in 2006.

A top Clinton aide, Ann Lewis, outlined the campaign’s effort to reach out to the Jewish community.

“In advance of the Chesapeake primaries, we have been organizing our supporters and attending events with the community, with distinguished supporters like Sen. Barbara Mikulski. Josh Kram, our director of Jewish Outreach, represented the campaign at Kemp Mill Synagogue in Silver Spring on Saturday for a candidate forum,” Lewis said.

“In addition,” she added, “our Chai for Hillary effort has helped bring in many young Jewish supporters and they are working tirelessly for our effort over the past week, we have hosted several phone banks at the campaign to reach Jewish voters in the DC-MD-VA area.”

In the capital, Obama’s Jewish proxies met with young Jewish professionals at a Havdalah service Saturday night at a bistro in the trendy Dupont Circle area. U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said Obama stood “shoulder to shoulder” with Israel but understood peace negotiations were the key to ensuring Israel’s security.

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