Behind the Headlines: Stop the Presses; Hillary Has Jews in Her Family! Voters Ask, ‘so What?’
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Behind the Headlines: Stop the Presses; Hillary Has Jews in Her Family! Voters Ask, ‘so What?’

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ask, `So what?’ “OY VEY!” the New York Post blared across its front page in three-inch letters last week.

“Hillary’s ALMOST Jewish.”

An accompanying column carried the headline, “The first Shiksa wants to be a yenta? Oy!”

New York’s supercharged Senate campaign took a distinctly Jewish turn last week when the Forward, a weekly Jewish newspaper, reported that Clinton has some Jews on her family tree. Her step-grandfather was Jewish and her mother’s half- sister later converted.

The Forward called Clinton’s grandmother, Della Rosenberg, “the feisty wife of a Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrant” and predicted that the revelation would boost her Senate chances.

But even if Clinton were Jewish, her background would not influence Jewish voters, according to pollsters, analysts and politicians.

“Ethnicity has very little to do with how Jews vote,” said John Zogby, president of Zogby International, a New York-based polling firm that has conducted many surveys of Jewish voters.

“Basically those who really viscerally dislike Hillary will add another notch in the column and ask, `What’s she trying to do?'” Zogby said.

While those who support her will ignore the issue, he said.

To be sure, Clinton has made courting Jewish voters a central focus of her campaign. One out of every eight voters in New York is Jewish, making them a key constituency in her campaign.

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch tried to put the revelation into perspective.

“I think it’s much ado about nothing,” he said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” news show.

“I’m a proud member of the Jewish faith, and it would be wonderful if Hillary were Jewish. But she’s not,” Koch said.

According to the Forward, Clinton’s maternal grandmother, Della Murray, divorced her husband in 1927 and remarried Max Rosenberg in 1933. Together they had a daughter, Adeline.

Like many activists from both parties, Koch said it “means nothing” that Clinton has Jewish relatives.

“Jews don’t vote, normally, on the basis of ethnicity,” Koch said.

While the impact of the story is not fully known, pollsters are watching the Jewish vote carefully. Zogby predicts that the winner of the Jewish vote will win the election.

A compilation of Zogby polls over the last eight months released this week shows New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani leading Clinton, 43.9 percent to 41.8 percent, among Jewish voters.

The sample of 678 Jewish voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent, has 14.3 percent undecided.

Among all voters, Giuliani leads Clinton by 46.9 to 41.7 percent, Zogby said.

“Hillary is not doing as well among Jewish voters as a Democrat normally would do,” Zogby said.

At the same time, Giuliani does better among Jewish voters than a Republican normally does, he said.

Most interesting is the large number of undecided voters, he said. But these voters are unlikely to be more supportive of Clinton because of her step- relatives, analysts said, because Jews don’t vote for Jews just because they are Jewish.

In 1996, Republican Party leaders supported the candidacy of Dick Zimmer, a New Jersey Republican, in part because he is Jewish. But when the votes were counted, his opponent, Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), received almost 80 percent of the Jewish vote, according to exit polls conducted by Zogby for the New Jersey Jewish News.

New Jersey’s other senator, Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat who is Jewish, received less Jewish support than Toricelli did in his last election, polls showed.

In other recent races, Rep. Jon Fox, a Jewish Republican from suburban Philadelphia, received an estimated 25 percent of the Jewish vote in his losing 1998 battle for re-election against Rep. Joe Hoeffel (D-Pa).

And in New York, some 70 percent of Jewish voters supported Giuliani in his last election victory over Ruth Messinger, a Jewish Democrat.

With this in mind, Jewish Democrats and Republicans predicted that the revelation that Clinton has Jewish family members will have no impact on Jewish voters.

“People do not vote, by and large, on the basis on whether someone has a Jewish grandparent or not. People do not even vote for someone even if they are an active Jew,” said Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, agreed.

“Because someone married someone Jewish three decades ago is not particularly relevant,” Brooks said, calling the revelation “a humorous one-day anecdotal story.”

Being Jewish might “get you a leg up by getting in the door, but like anything else you have to earn votes on a number of issues,” Brooks said.

But if Brooks was competing for the Jewish vote, he said, “I’d rather be Jewish than not.” ???

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