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No clear-cut favorite for Dem VP among Jewish activists

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As Barack Obama gets ready to roll out his running mate, Jewish political insiders and activists say they would welcome any of the three most talked about possibilities.

Some say Sen. Joseph Biden’s (D-Del.) extensive experience on foreign policy issues makes him a big favorite among pro-Israel activists, but others prefer Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) as a solid, appealing choice. And while some Jewish Democrats admit they aren’t too familiar with Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D), they say reports of his good relations with the Virginia Jewish community reassure them.

“I have not heard a single name that has caused conternation” or is considered a problem, said Steve Rabinowitz, a Democratic political consultant who often works on Jewish issues.

Steve Grossman, a former president of AIPAC and chair of the Democratic Party, said that while there are a group of Jewish voters who are looking for an experienced foreign-policy hand, others just want someone who fits well with Obama and matches their “progressive” views on a variety of issues. Grossman, who backed Hillary Clinton in the primaries, believes Biden would be popular because he’s “as well known an individual as any elected official in America” with a lengthy “track record” of backing the U.S.-Israel relationship, but also noted that Bayh has “enormous credibility with the pro-Israel community” and Kaine gets high marks from his Jewish constituents. Grossman emphasized, though, that he doesn’t think that the VP selection will make much of a difference to Jewish voters because Obama will have proved his bona fides on foreign policy issues by Election Day.

Rebecca Geller, a co-founder of “Chai for Hillary” who is now backing Obama, said younger pro-Israel activists seem to prefer Bayh for his relative youth combined with his experience, although “there’s not really a consensus of one person,” just “a relief that all people vetted” would be satisfactory. Geller herself, a native of Richmond, Va., is a big fan of Kaine, who served as the mayor of that city before ascending to state politics. While studying abroad, she spent time with the then-mayor when he visited Jerusalem for a mayors’ conference.

And Marcel Groen, chair of the Democratic Party of Montgomery County, Pa., belives that “if you took a poll Hillary [Clinton] would be the overwhelmingly choice,” although that selection appears unlikely.

The only name that would universally disappoint Jewish activists would be Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, whose name has been bandied about but not been mentioned as a serious possibility. One said she would reconsider her vote, because of his record as a critic of Israel. Rabinowitz noted, though, that the Hagel choice would be unpopular with all Democrats, because they don’t want to vote for a Democratic president and possibly end up with a Republican if the vice president ends up taking over.

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