LOS ANGELES, Feb. 15 (JTA) As the March 7 California primaries draw near, Jewish voters are raising their voices, and money, for their favorite contenders.
About 300 supporters of Bill Bradley crowded into the University Synagogue Feb. 10 to welcome the presidential candidate and cheer his demand for strict gun controls.
That evening, some 750 fans of Vice President Al Gore, predominantly women, gathered at the Beverly Hills home of Richard and Daphna Ziman and dined in a large tent erected on the backyard tennis courts. They also contributed “twice as much as expected” to their candidate’s campaign, according to Ziman $200,000 reported the Los Angeles Times.
In the Democratic race, the many Jews with political and financial clout are weighing in heavily for Gore, leaving Bradley with a smaller and less prominent core of supporters.
On the Republican side, a highly charged cadre is going all-out for Sen. John McCain, leaving Texas Gov. George W. Bush with some Jewish grass- roots support, but no discernible backing from any Jewish community leader.
Among the Gore partisans, a frequent theme is sounded by longtime American Israel Public Affairs Committee leader Larry Weinberg and his wife, Barbara, a former Jewish federation president.
“Going back for decades, Al Gore has been there for us whenever we needed him,” said Larry Weinberg. “In the Senate, he became an informed, active leader on issues affecting Israel, and he has been a warm and caring friend.”
Bradley, Weinberg said, “had also a good voting record when he was in the Senate, but he wasn’t a leader.”
One of Gore’s oldest and closest friends in Los Angeles is former Rep. Mel Levine. “I’ve watched Gore closely for many years, and he has compiled a stellar record, especially on Israel and Middle East peace issues,” he said.
Levine said he thinks Bradley is somewhat disingenuous in positioning himself to the left of Gore. “During his years in the Senate, he defined himself as a centrist Democrat,” Levine said.
Veteran presidential adviser Edward Sanders is not actively campaigning this year, but is voting for Gore as the best candidate to oppose the Republican standard-bearer.
Howard Welinsky, head of Democrats for Israel, said he and the majority of his group are backing Gore, but there is a sizable faction supporting Bradley.
In the local Bradley campaign, the most prominent activist is Bruce Corwin, chairman of the Metropolitan Theatres Corp. He hosted a “primarily Jewish” fund-raiser for Bradley some months ago, which netted $100,000.
“I’ve known Bill Bradley for 25 years and I speak to him frequently,” Corwin said. “He is an extraordinary man who gets away from the people in the Beltway and can see the big picture.”
Ralph Fertig, who organized the Bradley meeting at the University Synagogue as chairman of its social justice committee, said he believes that Bradley supporters make up in enthusiasm what they might lack in financial muscle.
Enthusiasm is also the hallmark of McCain supporters on the Republican side. Noticeable is Rosalie Zalis, who brings the same zeal to the McCain campaign that she did to former Gov. Pete Wilson’s administration during her many years as senior adviser.
McCain activists are preparing for a big general fund-raiser on Feb. 25 for their candidate, whose host committee includes such Jewish figures as attorney Marvin Jubas, real estate developer Jerry Epstein, investor Peter Lowy, and veteran Republican pillar Nettie Becker.
Recent recruits to the cause, said Zalis, include novelists Faye and Jonathan Kellerman.
No one is more fervent in his support for McCain than Jubas.
“I have known the senator for many years. No one in this town is more aware of his integrity and character than I,” he said. “Nobody is more pro-Israel than the senator and those of us associated with AIPAC know that if we really need someone, we turn to John.”
Becker acknowledged that “I don’t go along with” McCain “not being pro-choice,” but that’s outweighed by “his willingness to speak his mind and his wonderful support for Israel.”
Apparently McCain’s public stand last month opposing the release of Jonathan Pollard, imprisoned for spying for Israel, has not hurt his standing among his Jewish supporters.
Less visible are well-known community leaders supporting Bush.
One likely factor is that the governor is paying for the “sins” of his father.
“When President Bush first ran in 1992, I’d say 40 to 50 percent” of the Jewish “Hillcrest Country Club supported him,” said veteran Republican stalwart Marshall Ezralow, who is now backing McCain.
Ezralow said he became disenchanted with the elder Bush by his on- again, off-again support of Israel, the perceived anti-Israel policy of his secretary of state, James Baker, and Bush’s flirtation with the Christian right.
This does not mean that the younger Bush is without Jewish support on the grass-roots level.
A number of volunteer workers for Bush praised their candidate but generally emphasized that their support was not motivated by “Jewish” interests but by a patriotic concern for America’s well-being.
Dentist Joel Strom, who serves as the state chairman for Bush volunteers, believes that the governor’s election “offers the best opportunity for those who want to change the political landscape and consider themselves compassionate conservatives.”
Connie Friedman, a human resources consultant who heads Bush volunteers in the San Fernando Valley-centered 24th congressional district, felt that “Bush is the right guy to lead this country.”
Friedman said she likes Bush’s pro-Israel stance, but that she will not vote primarily as a Jew. “Of course we don’t want an anti-Semite in the White House, but we’re voting as Americans first,” she said.