Suddenly, New York — and its large Jewish population — could matter more than ever before for both parties’ presidential primary races.
Sen. Hillary Clinton’s poll- and pundit-defying victory over Sen. Barack Obama in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary leaves her party’s nominee to be decided in the mega ballot of 22 states that will go to the polls on Feb. 5, known as Super-Duper Tuesday.
New York, one of the largest states, with 281 delegates, is among the richest prizes of that day.
Obama forces said this week that they are planning an energetic but targeted effort in New York, Clinton’s home turf, preparing for a slogging nomination battle in which every delegate is likely to count. Such an effort seemed unlikely before his
victory in Iowa, given assumption about Clinton’s unshakeable support here.
And some observers say Sen. John McCain’s strong New Hampshire victory on the Republican side could give him a shot in a state where former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was expected to glide to victory, although few believe the Arizona Republican will have the resources to mount a major media campaign in the super-expensive New York City media market.
"We’re back in business," said Fred Zeidman, a top Jewish Republican and McCain supporter. "He stuck with it, through thick and thin, and we stuck with him."
McCain’s newfound momentum, he said, could turn the New York primary into a horserace.
Both parties feature unexpectedly tight races and the prospect no clear winners will emerge even after Super Tuesday on Feb. 5.
"There is now no frontrunner in either party," said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. "Two or three candidates have won contests in small, unrepresentative states in both parties. The campaign will not end as early as many had thought."
And both feature an increasingly desperate hunt for campaign dollars.
"It’s amazing — collectively, they appear to have raised close to a half-billion dollars to this point," said Kean University political scientist Gilbert Kahn. "Given the lack of clarity coming out of the first two primaries, and the fact some candidates are in very serious financial difficulties, the costs of this campaign will dwarf that."
And that could put an intensified focus on Jewish donors on both sides of the partisan divide, he said.
After the Jan. 3 Iowa primary, Obama strategists said they would intensify their New York efforts. Tuesday’s defeat in New Hampshire may have dampened their enthusiasm for a head-to-head clash with Clinton on her home turf. But the narrowing race and New York’s proportional method of allocating delegates still makes the state an rich target for delegates.
Historically, New Yorkers have rarely had a chance to help decide a parties’ nominee. The state’s late placement on the primary calendar has usually made the nominee a foregone conclusion by primary day.
Obama forces insist they plan a strong run in New York, but the effort will narrowly target congressional districts where their candidate is running strong. The goal is not to beat Clinton overall, but pick up a respectable number of New York delegates.
"The Obama campaign is moving in a very formidable way toward the New York primary," said state Sen. Bill Perkins (D-West Harlem), a leading Obama supporter.
New York is "in play," he said — a "dramatic change" from the start of the campaign, when the state was seen as a lock for its senior senator.
Because of the prohibitive media costs in the New York metropolitan area, Obama’s intensified effort will center on lower-profile retail politics, including direct mail and "getting folks in the community to get the word out," Perkins said.
The campaign is also organizing a major effort in African-American churches, increasingly a political stronghold for Obama. Brooklyn, Harlem and Queens will be targeted, Perkins said. The campaign will also focus on Hispanics and young Manhattan progressives, many of them Jewish.
"It will be a very strategic approach in New York," Perkins said.
But Clinton’s backers believe the well-oiled campaign machine that pushed the senator to victory in New Hampshire will fend off major Obama inroads in her home state.
"It’s a contest where money and organization will be critical," said University of Florida political scientist Ken Wald. "That’s where Clinton has a very big advantage."
That advantage will allow Clinton to pump more resources into other critical Super Tuesday states, including California, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey.
A big generational divide — in the broader electorate and in the Jewish community — could also work to Clinton’s advantage in New York and other large Super Tuesday states, since the older Democrats she tends to attract are more likely to turn out on Election Day — a significant factor in her New Hampshire triumph.
Obama has picked up significant support from younger Jewish Democrats galvanized by his calls for more a more inclusive, less partisan mode of politics.
"Sen. Clinton represents the same old thing," said Nick Rosenberg, a young New York lawyer and Obama supporter. "She’s the old deal. The old deal was good in its time; Bill Clinton brought about change 16 years ago. But that was 16 years ago."
But Steve Grossman, a former Democratic National Committee chair and leading Clinton supporter, said Clinton’s experience and maturity are big pluses for many Jewish voters, especially older ones.
"Obama’s record just isn’t of that much substance," Grossman said. "And Bill Clinton was seen as so extraordinarily supportive of the aspirations of the Jewish community, and Bill and Hillary are seen as a team."
In the Jewish community, Grossman conceded, Obama has captured the imagination of many younger voters. But he said Clinton goes into the next rounds of primaries with more money, better organization and stronger support from older Jews, who are more reliable voters.
Grossman predicted that an inconclusive start to the compressed round of primaries will force both to "mount major efforts" in big Feb. 5 states — including states where "the Jewish vote really matters, including New York and New Jersey."
The degree to which delegate-rich New York will be a real Democratic battleground depends on whether a bruised Obama can raise enough money to mount serious efforts in big Super Tuesday states — and where he decides to invest that money.
"It’s obviously a very complex and fluid situation," Grossman said. "There is a limited amount of time, and nobody has the money to do everything."
The GOP Side
The situation is even cloudier on the Republican side, where at least four contenders are still in the running.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the big winner in Iowa and the surprise leader in some national polls early this week, is poised for a strong performance in South Carolina. The Jan. 15 Michigan primary could boost former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the onetime GOP frontrunner whose campaign now seems on life support after consecutive second place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.
And there’s Giuliani, who came in fourth in New Hampshire with 9 percent of the vote, just ahead of libertarian Ron Paul.
Giuliani has bet everything that a scrambled GOP field would leave him sitting pretty on Jan. 29, when Florida Republicans to the polls — and when a large population of retired New York Jews could help boost him to victory.
McCain’s revival is a big complication for the former mayor. With the national spotlight on the Iowa and New Hampshire winners, Giuliani has faded from view, and in the polls. Many observers expect McCain to do well with the same Florida voters — older, more security minded and heavily Jewish — who were expected to boost Giuliani.
"There’s real momentum; the McCain campaign ball is rolling and picking up steam," said Zeidman, a top McCain supporter.
Kean University political scientist Gilbert Kahn said that "if McCain makes a strong showing in Florida, New York could be in play on the Republican side. There will be a very clear spillover. If he shows real staying power, the money could start to roll in, and he could be competitive here."
But Republican rules requiring "winner-take-all" primaries means that he would have to win outright against Giuliani, who has the home field advantage. And the huge costs of mounting a major media campaign in New York could convince the McCain forces to focus their limited resources elsewhere.
"He has really limited resources; that’s going to make it hard for McCain to challenge Rudy in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut," said Douglas Muzzio, a Baruch College political scientist. "He may have to make his stand in other states."
And Giuliani backers this week said they have been building a major statewide network in New York for almost a year, which they say could forestall a major effort by the other GOP contenders in the state.
"There will always be a tightening as things get closer to Election Day, but Rudy’s support in New York remains very strong," said a top Jewish backer. "Those who know him best have rallied behind Rudy."
But there’s another scenario that is prompting speculation in GOP circles: a Giuliani loss in Florida could effectively end his campaign and break the New York race wide open.
"Mayor Giuliani took a real chance with his strategy," said McCain supporter Zeidman. "Now we may get to see how that plays out.