NEW YORK (JTA) – Hillary Rodham Clinton scored a major victory with Jewish Democrats in New York and New Jersey in Super Tuesday voting, Barack Obama won a majority of Jewish support in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and the battle was close in California.
According to exit polls, Clinton took 65 percent of the Jewish primary vote in New York state, which she represents in the U.S. Senate, and 63 percent in neighboring New Jersey, compared to Obama’s 35 percent in New York and 37 percent in New Jersey. She captured both states in the overall voting.
But Obama made a strong showing in Connecticut, which he won overall, with 61 percent of the Jewish vote to 38 percent for Clinton. In Massachusetts, which Obama lost overall, the Illinois senator edged Clinton in the Jewish vote, 52 percent to 48 percent.
Clinton also won the night’s biggest prize, a majority of the 440 delegates at stake in California, but neither candidate could claim a majority of the Golden State’s Jewish voters. Clinton took 48 percent of the Jewish vote there and Obama 44 percent. John Edwards, who withdrew from the race on Jan. 30, won the support of 8 percent of California Jews.
On the Republican side, Jews comprised such a small percentage of voters that finding a reliable statistical snapshot of their preferences was impossible.
Exit poll data were reported by MSNBC based on polling conducted by Edison/Mitofsky.
Obama’s campaign has been scrambling for weeks to rebut various e-mail campaigns painting him as unsupportive of Israel and falsely alleging, among other things, that the Democratic candidate is secretly a Muslim who refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
Some observers have asserted that the e-mails were hurting the senator among Jewish voters, despite his generally strong performance in earlier states among white, affluent, college-educated voters. Yet with the exception of New York, Obama fared better among Jewish voters on Tuesday – in some cases substantially better – than he did among the broader white population.
In Massachusetts, for example, only 40 percent of white voters supported Obama compared to 52 percent of Jews. Obama also showed better among Jews than with voters earning more than $100,000 a year, 44 percent, and college graduates, 47 percent.
“People that would believe” the e-mail attacks “weren’t voting for him anyway,” Hank Sheinkopf, a longtime Democratic consultant, told JTA. “If it had really been so impactful, then Jews would have voted against him.”
Sheinkopf says The New York Times endorsement is more likely to move Jews to the Clinton side than scurrilous claims that Obama is weak on Israel and a Muslim sympathizer.
He attributed Jewish support for Obama in Massachusetts and Connecticut to the strength of Sen. Edward Kennedy’s endorsement.
“The Kennedy influence had an extraordinary impact,” Sheinkopf said, “partly for Jews that believe that secular liberalism is their religion. Kennedy’s liberalism and the impact of the Kennedy name were more influential on them than on other groups.”
Polls showed that turnout on Super Tuesday was high. The Jewish percentage of the Democratic electorate outstripped the percentage of the general voting-age population in every Super Tuesday state with a significant Jewish community.
In New York, Jews represent roughly 9 percent of eligible voters, according to University of Miami demographer Ira Sheskin, but comprised 16 percent of voters in the Democratic primary. In Connecticut, Jews are 3.5 percent of the electorate but made up 10 percent of Democratic primary voters.
In California, Jews were 5 percent of Democratic voters, compared to 3.7 percent overall; 6 percent in Massachusetts, compared to 4.5 percent; and 9 percent in New Jersey, compared to 6 percent.
With the Democratic contest still very much undecided – Clinton leads Obama by about 100 delegates in a race with 4,049 at stake – attention will likely return to Florida, a delegate-rich state that party leaders have promised not to count toward the nomination.
Only two states, New York and California, have more Jews than Florida. Exit polling showed that in the Sunshine State’s Jan. 29 primary, Clinton took 58 percent of the Jewish vote, compared to 26 percent for Obama and 13 percent for Edwards.
The Democratic National Committee stripped Florida and Michigan of their delegates after the states violated party rules by scheduling its primary earlier than Feb. 5.
DNC Chairman Howard Dean, interviewed Monday on CNN, said the issue would be sorted out by a credentials committee over which he has no control.
Yet even if the delegates are seated at the party convention this summer, the Obama campaign could still cry foul. Like Clinton, Obama abided by a pledge not to campaign in Florida, and he could argue that the results in Florida and Clinton’s easy victory don’t truly reflect the wishes of the electorate.
“At the end of the day,” Dean said on CNN, “we want a unified party, including Florida and Michigan.”
As the race moves forward, another large state with a sizable Jewish population, Pennsylvania, is likely to gain more attention in the media and from the two campaigns. Pennsylvania is scheduled to hold its primaries on April 22.