The only sure things in life are death, taxes — and a strong Jewish turnout on Election Day. And that will be particularly true this year, experts agree. Aside from the intense battle for the U.S. Senate here, a race which has the Jewish community torn between two favorites, there is another motivating factor: The Monica Lewinsky scandal. Polls show that with the exception of blacks, Jews are more supportive of President Bill Clinton than other ethnic groups.
Many analysts believe the November elections will be a bellwether on how the impeachment proceedings will proceed. If Republicans, who control both houses of Congress, pick up even more seats, and gain other statewide offices, they will perceive this outcome as a vote of confidence in efforts to impeach the president. If the Democrats gain, this will be taken as a message of support for the beleaguered Clinton, the theory goes.
This means that turnout among Jews, who are overwhelmingly Democrats, can influence the president’s political future, as well as those of the candidates they support.
“This is an election where turnout is the whole story, “ says Esther Fuchs, director of the Center for Urban Policy at Columbia University. “According to the polls, likely Republican voters are satisfied with what the Republicans are doing, but everyone else is turned off. [The Republicans] are betting that everyone else will stay home. But there is a real possibility people will go to the polls to express their dissatisfaction.”
Heavy turnout among Jewish Democrats would be good news for Rep. Charles Schumer in his tight race against Republican Sen. Alfonse D’Amato. While D’Amato won 41 percent of the Jewish vote in 1992, Schumer is leading D’Amato in most polls among Jewish voters. And the fact that the Republicans are within five seats of capturing a large enough majority in the Senate to stop a filibuster and thus fully control the agenda may fuel more Democratic votes. Pro-Clinton sentiment may also help Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Peter Vallone, who trails Gov. George Pataki in the polls. Pataki won only about 25 percent of the Jewish vote in 1994. Clinton was in town this week to endorse both Schumer and Vallone, and was warmly received.
“There will be a backlash,” predicted Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Queens/Long Island). “The president has gotten a lot of support from the Jewish community during the heart of the ordeal. This will help Schumer in his race, since people remember that D’Amato roughed up the first lady [during the 1996 Senate Whitewater probe.] People who defend the president will want to defend the first rebbetzin.”
Another Long Island representative, Carolyn McCarthy, who represents the Five Towns area, said she was fully aware that — as the sole New York Democrat to vote in favor of an impeachment inquiry last week — she was at odds with her district’s sizable Jewish population. “On an emotional level, the Jewish community wants this to go away,” McCarthy told The Jewish Week Friday, the day after the vote. “I wish I could make it go away, but I was sworn to uphold the Constitution. I can’t go by polls.” McCarthy believes the inquiry will find no grounds for impeachment.
The issue has also become a factor in a Democratic challenger’s bid to unseat longtime Rockland County Rep. Ben Gilman. Both Gilman and Democrat Paul Feiner are Jewish. Gilman, like all House Republicans, supported the impeachment inquiry.
“As chairman of the House International Relations Committee, Mr. Gilman had an obligation to help end this guerrilla war between the White House and Congress, but he failed,” said Feiner in a statement. The Greenburgh town supervisor pointed out that “the world financial markets are floundering [and] we face imperiling military crises in Iraq and Kosovo. Now more than ever the world needs a stable America.”
A spokesman for the state’s Republican party, Terry O’Brien, dismissed the notion of an anti-Republican backlash as “a non-issue. We think the voters are pleased with the direction the state is going, and we expect that to be reflected in the voting booth.”
But one Jewish organizational leader, who requested anonymity, said it was a safe bet that a majority of Jews feel the president’s pain.
“Jews have a visceral reaction to issues of individual freedom,” said the leader. “For example, they are mostly in favor of abortion rights, although they have fewer abortions than others. We don’t like to tell other people how to behave, and so the president’s sex life is none of our business.”
Gov. Pataki seems to have a different view of Democratic state comptroller H. Carl McCall than does his Republican running mate, Bruce Blakeman.
In a Jewish Week interview last month, comptroller candidate Blakeman said McCall “conducts his audits in a partisan nature” and has politicized his office. But when Blakeman’s comments were cited to Pataki in a later interview, the governor — after a lengthy endorsement of Blakeman as “the best candidate”— spoke kindly of McCall.
“There are times when we’ve disagreed,” Pataki said. “But what the reasons for those disagreements were, I would give him the benefit of a doubt — as I hope he would give me the benefit of a doubt — that they were based on legitimate differences of principle as opposed to politics.”