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America Decides 2004 Kerry Camp Backtracks in Flap over Lieberman’s Sabbath Rites

October 30, 2003
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Fierce jockeying for support in Arizona’s early Democratic primary already has scored a win — for Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s right to observe the Sabbath.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s campaign cut ties Wednesday with Ben Miranda, an Arizona state representative who brought up Lieberman’s Sabbath observance in his efforts to get other state legislators to switch their endorsements from the Connecticut senator to Kerry.

“We have expressed our deepest regrets to Sen. Lieberman, a friend of Sen. Kerry’s for many years, and made it clear that, of course, Sen. Kerry deplores and will not tolerate the injection of religion into this race in any manner whatsoever,” the campaign said in a statement.

Unlike earlier contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, where there already are clear leaders, four candidates are jockeying for the lead in Arizona’s Feb. 3 primary.

Polls show the contest in Arizona up for grabs between Gen. Wesley Clark, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Lieberman and Kerry.

Lieberman has stopped campaigning in Iowa to devote his attention to Feb. 3 races in Arizona and six other states. Arizona is the first primary in a large state with a substantial Hispanic population — Democrats are calling Feb. 3 “Hispanic Tuesday” — and a win there could propel a second-tier candidate like Lieberman, who trails Dean and Clark in other races, to the front lines.

Candidates are working hard to get endorsements from popular local politicians.

Rep. Ben Miranda, who represents a heavily Hispanic district in Phoenix, recently switched his endorsement from Lieberman to Kerry. He acknowledged to JTA that he had mentioned Lieberman’s Sabbath observance in meetings with other state representatives.

However, he denied a quote attributed to him by state representatives, who told The Arizona Republic that Miranda complained Lieberman was a weak candidate because he “can’t campaign three days a week.”

Miranda insists he did not make it a central issue — only mentioning that it was a concern in Lieberman’s own camp — and said he regrets the episode.

“I love Joe dearly,” he said.

Kerry, who is the lead Senate Democrat pushing legislation that would make it easier for Jews to observe the Sabbath and holidays, distanced himself from Miranda hours after the story appeared.

His campaign also investigated reports that Kerry’s Arizona campaign manager, Mario Diaz, had endorsed Miranda’s remarks, and found them baseless.

Lieberman’s campaign, which first brought the matter to the attention of national reporters, accepted Kerry’s regrets.

“We’re glad that John Kerry’s campaign took steps to resolve this problem,” a statement said. “There’s no place for these kind of statements, which are not reflective of the tolerance and understanding of the American people.”

The Orthodox Union commended Kerry for dealing with the matter swiftly.

“We deeply appreciate the fact that you quickly investigated these allegations, disassociated yourself and your campaign from Mr. Miranda and deplored anyone who would inject religion into the political campaign,” said the letter signed by O.U. leaders.

Lieberman has said that Sabbath observance is central to his identity.

“It is not so much that I keep the Sabbath as the Sabbath keeps me,” he wrote in his account of the 2000 campaign, which made Lieberman the first Jewish vice presidential candidate for a major party.

His religious observance already has made news in Arizona: The difficulties of traveling around Sukkot led Democrats to reschedule a Phoenix debate earlier this month.

Robert Meza, a state representative from Phoenix who has endorsed Lieberman, said the candidate’s observance of Jewish holidays is part of his attraction.

“He’s not afraid to say who he is,” Meza said. “If candidates believe in who they are, what they stand for, I respect that.”

Kerry was wise to distance himself from Miranda, Meza said, if only because Arizona’s multicultural mix is receptive to candidates who do not shy from their roots.

“There would have been a bad reaction from every community, not just the Jewish community,” Meza said. “African-Americans, gays, Hispanics — every community.”

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