MANCHESTER, N.H. (JTA) – If the polls are right, New Hampshire voters are poised to follow the lead of Iowa caucus-goers in dealing a resounding defeat to the two presidential candidates deemed most favorable by American Jews.
The last round of polls before Tuesday’s primaries in New Hampshire predicted that U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), who for months had been leading the Democratic field in the Granite State, would lose to U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the surging winner in Iowa. The latest polls also showed the former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who finished sixth on the Republican side in Iowa, battling for fourth place in the GOP primary. Clinton and Giuliani scored the first and second highest favorable rating, respectively, in a recent poll of Jewish opinion conducted by the American Jewish Committee.
The New Hampshire primary is taking place just five days after the Iowa caucuses, in which Obama and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee won surprising victories over better-known and better-financed competitors. Both Obama, a first-term senator, and Huckabee are by comparison lesser known to the Jewish community.
Obama’s stunning victory in Iowa catapulted him in New Hampshire and erased a longstanding Clinton lead in a state where she has a large political operation. In the polls leading up to the primary, Obama consistently gained on the former First Lady until he was leading by double digits, according to some surveys.
In what may have been a sign of Obama’s surging confidence, his campaign scheduled only one appearance on primary day besides his nighttime rally, while Clinton was scheduled to visit four polling stations around the state in addition to her primary night rally in Manchester.
While some pundits were prepared to write Clinton’s obituary after New Hampshire, few were expecting her to drop out of the race. Her campaign coffers are well stocked and Clinton herself gave every indication that she would fight on.
“People are frustrated but still hopeful,” said Laurie Moskowitz, a political consultant who volunteered for the Clinton campaign in Iowa. “People don’t feel like this is over by any stretch of the imagination.”
Giuliani sounded a similar theme after losing Iowa, vowing to fight on in states that vote later, like Florida, where polls have shown him to be the front-runner. Defying the conventional political wisdom that places a premium on a strong showing in the early voting states, Giuliani hewed instead to his so-called “late state” strategy that focuses on states that vote later, like Florida and New York, where he is expecting to make a strong showing.
Giuliani’s prospects hinge on winning Florida, which votes on Jan. 29 and then making a strong showing on Feb. 5, so-called “Super Tuesday,” when a number of delegate-rich states go to the polls.
Giuliani made relatively few appearances in Iowa, but as he slipped in national and New Hampshire polls – as of Tuesday he was battling Ron Paul for fourth place in the Granite State’s GOP race – that strategy was increasingly being called into question. Giuliani made several appearances in New Hampshire in the run-up to the primary but his message of strong national security policy and fiscal discipline appeared not to be resonating with voters in the state.
Huckabee, a former Baptist minister who has unnerved some in the Jewish community with his intense social conservatism and his frequent invocations of Christianity, was not expected to win in New Hampshire. Huckabee has spent a good deal of time in the state, but was telling reporters early in the week that he would be content with a third place finish in New Hampshire and was focusing on the next primary, in
South Carolina later this month, where he was banking on a strong showing.
Some observers believe the Republican Jewish Coalition was reacting to Huckabee’s surge in the polls with its statement last month urging candidates “to uphold the long-held American tradition of religious tolerance and respect for religious diversity.”
While the bulk of the Jewish vote is expected to go to the Democratic nominee, Jewish Democrats acknowledge that Obama may be a slightly harder sell than Clinton and may be more vulnerable to Republican attack.
“Obama is not as well known across the entire Jewish community as Hillary,” said Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “In that sense, our work getting out his record will be more extensive. However, at the end of the day, I’m confident that if he’s the nominee he will do extremely well among American Jews.”
The AJC survey, which polled 1,000 Jewish Americans, found that Clinton was rated favorably by 53 percent of respondents, with Giuliani placing second at 41 percent. Among Jewish Democrats, Clinton scored a 70 percent favorable rating compared to 45 percent for Obama.
Obama has a strong record of reaching out to the Jewish community even as he has diverged from certain pro-Israel orthodoxies. He was slammed by Clinton for saying during a debate in July that he would be willing to meet with the leader of Iran in his first year as president. Clinton called that position “naive,” though she also favors diplomatic engagement with Tehran if not a direct meeting with its president.
A statement released Friday by the NJDC stressed that all Democratic candidates are “strong friends of the American Jewish community.” The NJDC also released a fact sheet calling Huckabee an “extremist,” citing his statements on gay marriage and the Middle East conflict.