The two presidential candidates deemed most favorable by Jewish voters were roundly defeated in the opening round of the 2008 presidential contest.
U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) finished third in the Iowa Caucuses on Jan. 3 after an intensely fought campaign, while former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani finished sixth on the Republican side, earning less than 4 percent of the vote.
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 Iowa winners, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois for the Democrats and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for the Republicans, are by comparison lesser known to the Jewish community.
Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, in particular has unnerved some with his intense social conservatism and his frequent invocations of Christianity.
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.
Despite a stunning victory by a first-term black senator over a longtime political veteran, Obama’s quest for the Democratic nomination is far from secured. Clinton enjoys a 12 percent lead over Obama in New Hampshire, according to the latest poll from Suffolk University, and has the financial depth to persevere well past the Jan. 8 primary in the Granite State.
“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 Friday, vowing to fight on in states that vote later, like Florida, where polls have shown him to be the front-runner.
Running a so-called “late state” strategy, Giuliani opted not to campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire in favor of later states where he enjoys more support. Polls show Giuliani trailing Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in New Hampshire.
For Clinton, however, New Hampshire is a significant battleground if she is to recapture the momentum. She is expected to campaign hard over the coming days to offset the expected bounce for Obama following his victory in Iowa.
“I think the win in Iowa was a very important and defining moment in this presidential race,” said Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.), the state’s first Jewish congressman and the co-chair of Obama’s campaign there. “New Hampshire voters are very independent-minded. They’ll make up their own minds. But it certainly shakes up the dynamics of this race very completely.”