In First Primary Battleground, Jews Are Non-Factor


As the nation’s political attention pivots from Iowa to New Hampshire this week, Rabbi Levi Krinsky, the emissary of Chabad Lubavitch in Manchester for the past 22 years, is feeling a little lonely.

Without a Democratic primary fight, the Jews of this fiercely independent state, who number about 10,000, aren’t being courted as heavily as they used to.

“This is the quietest [primary] I can remember,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday. Of the small Jewish population, even a smaller number are Republicans, judging by national trends.

The Jewish community of New Hampshire won’t likely play much of a role in next week’s primary election. The Republican Jewish Coalition has no members in the Granite State, which holds the first primary in the nation after Tuesday’s Iowa Caucus.

The state’s Jewish community is “mostly middle class, mostly in cities like Portsmouth, Manchester and Concord,” said Rabbi Lev Baesh, who served for 12 years as rabbi of Temple Israel in Dover and at the University of New Hampshire Hillel in Durham. “Most are moderate liberals. I think you will find some independents as well.” President Barack Obama carried the state against John McCain in the 2008 election.

“Many came to New Hampshire to get away from big city life, to teach, to ski, to raise families in relative comfort,” the rabbi continued. “Many remember going there as families when they were little and decided to raise kids there.”

In the past New Hampshire’s Jews were more heavily courted in the election cycle — Sen. Joe Lieberman spent six months campaigning there during his failed 2004 bid for the Democratic nomination. This year no Democrat is in the race other than the incumbent president, who does not have to seek his party’s nod.

Rabbi Krinsky, son of Crown Heights Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, who was a close aide to the late Lubavitcher rebbe, said he could think of only a handful of his two dozen or so regular congregants who identify as Republicans. In past election years he has fielded requests for kosher food or other accommodations for Jewish visitors during the primary. But this is his quietest primary season since he arrived at his post.

“You have a bunch of people running now that not a lot of people are excited about,” he said.

The chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition’s New England Chapter, Larry Hoffman, sees former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as the candidate most likely to resonate with New Hampshire Jewish voters. “He’s a favorite son; he has a home up in New Hampshire,” said Hoffman. “I think he is acceptable to a lot of Jewish voters, he has a lot of support in Massachusetts, and a lot of Jewish people are with him because he is more acceptable than some of the candidates who tend to be a little more conservative on the religious spectrum.”

Heading into the heart of the primary season, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has showed the most momentum, though he has little money and no major endorsements. Santorum, one of the top three candidates in Iowa coming in just eight votes behind Romney, has been talking up his pro-Israel record and has been perhaps the harshest critic of Obama’s Mideast policy, accusing him of appeasement of Iran and Syria — remarks that clearly irked the commander in chief, who cited the assassination of al Qaeda leaders in response.

Santorum heads into New Hampshire in close contention with Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a critic of Israel who advocates an end to foreign aid. The RJC pointedly excluded him from its recent candidates’ debate, saying his views were beyond the pale, and Jewish conservatives worked hard in Iowa to try to reduce his support there.

Asked if Paul’s presence on the ballot would spur more Jewish Republicans to turn out to vote against him, Hoffman said it was unlikely.

“This is a primary with a big field,” he said. “I don’t think people feel we’ve got to stop him, let’s vote for the other person. If it’s a two-man race, you get some of that, but when there are multiple candidates, people have more or less made up their mind. I don’t think it will be an anti-Paul vote when it’s a diverse field.”

Fred Zeidman, a businessman, former chair of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Committee and lobbyist who is a Romney supporter, said his candidate has shown the most consistent traction.

“Everyone else has had their day in the sun,” he said. “It appears that Rick Santorum could very well have his day in Iowa and New Hampshire. But if Romney does well, it will bode well for the future when we get to South Carolina and then Florida.”

Zeidman said Tuesday it was likely the conservative voter base in the early primary states would narrow the field by knocking out one or two of the most conservative candidates, such as Paul, Santorum or Rep. Michelle Bachmann, as a frontrunner emerges while bolstering more mainstream candidates. “If they can’t get the conservative vote out, they can’t raise money,” Zeidman said. Bachmann dropped out of the race on Wednesday.

“Rick Santorum is probably too conservative to get any of the mainstream vote.”

In his victory speech Tuesday, Romney played up foreign affairs.

“Iran is about to have nuclear weaponry just down the road,” he told his followers. “[President Obama] said he'd have a policy of engagement. How's that worked out?”

Santorum’s strong showing was credited mostly to his months-long dedication to Iowa, working every county and making more than 300 appearances.

But his strong foreign policy performance in the debates also was likely a factor.

In a New York Times profile published Wednesday, Santorum advisers said the candidate started to stress his own hard line on Iran after seeing how it elicited positive responses during his Iowa campaign.

Gingrich, who enjoyed a brief surge following the withdrawal of businessman Herman Cain in December, placed fourth with 13 percent, and said in his speech that he would make his foreign policy differences with Paul, who finished third in Iowa with 21 percent of the vote, a campaign issue in New Hampshire.

"I have no doubt about the survival of Israel as a moral cause which we have to recognize as central to our future," Gingrich said in his speech, targeting Paul who has downplayed Iran's potential nuclear threat and pledged to end aid to Israel if elected.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry received 10 percent of the vote in Iowa and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), 5 percent. Perry said he would “reassess” his campaign.

“There is still an ‘anybody but Mitt’ camp, and it's winnowed down by two today,” Zeidman told JTA.

Santorum already was reaching out to pro-Israel fundraisers in the wake of his strong showing, insiders said.

Pro-Israel insiders said Santorum would likely get a more receptive hearing in the wake of Iowa, although whether it would be enough to assist him going into New Hampshire was another question. With voting in the first primary state just days away, Santorum has a minimal ground operation in the state.

Ron Kampeas of JTA contributed to this report.