Lieberman: Still an asset in attracting Jewish votes?

Sure, Joe Lieberman was very popular among Jewish voters in 2000, but would his inclusion on the Republican presidential ticket this year inspire significant numbers of them to jump to the GOP? Jewish McCain supporters say yes, but a recent poll indicates the Connecticut senator might not be much of a draw anymore among his non-Republican co-religionists.

Lieberman had just a 37 percent overall favorability rating in a survey of 800 self-identified American Jews released last month by the dovish J Street organization, with 48 percent expressing disapproval of the now independent senator. And Jim Gerstein – principal of Gerstein Agne Strategic Communiciations, which conducted the poll – noted that a good percentage of that favoribility rating comes from Jewish GOPers, who registered 65 percent approval for Lieberman, compared to just 25 percent among Democrats and 45 percent for independents. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

Furthermore, the stats show that older Jews who were enamored at the first Jewish vice presidential candidate in places like Florida aren’t any more favorably disposed to Lieberman – he has the same 37 percent approval rating among Jews over 64 that he receives from the overall population, and a higher disapproval rate of 53 percent. In addition, Orthodox Jews – the most likely denomination of the Jewish community to be Republicans – has a huge 76 percent approval rating for Lieberman, but Reform Jews only give him a 34 percent positive rating.

“The bottom line is Lieberman doesn’t help McCain” among Jews, said Gerstein, because many Jews are upset at Lieberman’s departure from the Democratic Party and strident support for the Iraq war.

National Jewish Democratic Council executive director Ira Forman agrees. “First of all, I’d be very surprised if Lieberman was selected,” said Forman. But if he was, he doubts he has much extra appeal, noting that the Democratic vote for president only rose 1 percent from 1996 to 2000. If Lieberman truly made a difference to Jews, “you would think you’d have seen some difference” with him on the ticket.

But Jewish Republicans say they would be very comfortable with the Connecticut senator as McCain’s running mate, and should help their efforts to bring more Jews over to the GOP side. “I certainly hope he would,” said Fred Zeidman, a Republican Jewish Coalition board member from Houston. “I’d like to believe the Jewish community would embrace him.” Zeidman said he had been on the road campaigning for Jewish votes with Lieberman in Michigan, and noted 300 people had turned out to hear him speak at a Holocaust museum in Detroit.

McCain supporter Gary Erlbaum of Philadelphia, who has financially backed candidates of both parties over the years, said he thinks Lieberman would still be a draw for Jewish voters. “Joe has made friends and lost friends,” he said. “He would be a great asset” in attracting independents and Jews. But Erlbaum doubts Lieberman will be McCain’s pick, since the number of voters it could attract would be outweighed by the alienation of so many conservatives.

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