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Worried by Bush Team’s Inroads, Democrats Reach out to U.S. Jews

May 13, 2004
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

An open exchange between Congressional Democrats and the country’s top organizational Jewish leadership is a sign of the party’s determination to maintain its Jewish advantage this election year.

The event, which included a wide array of American Jewish organizational officials, focused on the budget, homeland security and the Middle East.

“This was an extraordinary showing,” said Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “They’re treating the Jewish community as a serious constituency and recognizing the many issues that are driving our community and will drive us as voters.”

The meeting lasted more than two hours, twice as long as scheduled.

No one directly raised the November presidential race, but the event had a pronounced political tone, participants said.

“There was an elephant in the room, the fact that there is this perception of an erosion of Jewish support for Democrats” said Rabbi Marc Schneier, founder and president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.

Jews voted Democratic by a 4-1 margin in 2000. No one expects Democrats to maintain that high, but the party wants to keep the proportion to 3-1.

Republicans hope to reprise their Reagan-era success, when nearly 40 percent of Jews voted for Republicans.

Democratic leaders have been working to reinforce ties with the Jewish community, cognizant of the inroads President Bush’s strong pro-Israel policies have made among Jews.

Democrats have a two-pronged strategy: They emphasize the domestic issues that they have in common with the Jewish community and repeat the right things about Israel.

And Tuesday’s dialogue began with a discussion on the budget, an area where many Jewish groups see eye-to-eye with the Democrats.

“It was a soft-sell pitch about how Republican budgets were going to adversely affect the country and the social concerns of the Jewish community,” said Jess Hordes, Washington director of the Anti-Defamation League.

The discussion delved into issues of poverty, Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security programs and stem-cell research, participants said. Expanding stem-cell research was an area where Democrats found common ground with the Orthodox, a community that traditionally leans Republican.

Jewish leaders also expressed interest in new legislation that would grant homeland security funds to high-risk, non-profit institutions, including many Jewish sites.

The House Democrats suggested the conversation should continue with conference calls and committee meetings.

“The Jewish community is an essential partner in our congressional priorities at home and abroad,” Pelosi said in a statement.

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