Next week’s delegate-rich Super Tuesday contests will see an unprecedented surge of Jewish primary voting in a single day, and the results should offer the first solid glimpse of the community’s attitudes heading into the post-George W. Bush era.
The only states with major Jewish populations not voting on Tuesday will be Florida, which held its primary this week (perhaps at the expense of gaining Democratic delegates) and Pennsylvania, which holds its primary on April 22.
Of the nation’s estimated 6.4 million Jews, more than four million live in the tri-state area, California, Arizona, Massachusetts and Illinois, all of them Super Tuesday states.
"There may be more Jews voting as one group on Super Tuesday than at any other time in history," said Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. If current primary voting trends hold on Super Tuesday — some primaries have seen record voter turnout in this unpredictable election year — the data on Jewish voters could be particularly revealing.
Up for grabs are 52 percent of Democratic delegates and 41 percent of Republican delegates, but analysts don’t expect a winner to be crowned that day: Later primaries in Texas, Pennsylvania and Ohio are more likely to put a frontrunner over the top.
If there is a solid Jewish turnout and reliable exit polling, the outcome should demonstrate which candidates in the most unpredictable election in recent history — the first in a half-century without an incumbent president or vice president — is resonating with the community heading into the later primaries and November’s general election.
But it remains to be seen if Jews will retain their status as high-turnout primary voters in New York on this unprecedented early date, because voters are used to a later primary in the state.
Among other issues, Super Tuesday may illuminate whether anonymous attempts to label Sen. Barack Obama a Muslim have had any effect, and how well Sen. Hillary Clinton has won over Jewish voters outside her adopted state of New York. She did well in Florida Tuesday.
Among Jewish Republicans, Tuesday may show how comfortable they are with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, and whether the support of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the former Democrat, has helped John McCain among Jews.
"I’ll be looking at the polling data," said Ira Forman of the National Jewish Democratic Council. "We should have numbers in at least California, New York, New Jersey. If there are enough Jews voting we should have exit polls. So that should tell us something."
It was expected that former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani would drop out of the race and endorse McCain after his disappointing third-place finish in Florida, where he had campaigned heavily and staked his entire campaign strategy. Giuliani heavily courted Florida Jews and has strong support among Orthodox Jews, but most apparently will not have the chance to vote for him.
Most of New York’s Democratic elected establishment is behind Clinton. On Friday, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Rep. Steve Israel of Long Island were to hold a conference call with Jewish leaders to boost support for her.
Obama’s campaign this week showed that it would not concede Jewish votes to Clinton. In a bid to address the Muslim rumors, the campaign sought a conference call with Jewish reporters
But one New York Jewish organizational leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity because his organization is apolitical, said he was aware of no organized or grassroots effort by any of the candidates to reach out to Jews here. Sen. John McCain is the only candidate still running who appeared before a Jewish organization here, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, last fall.
"My sense is that in the minority communities there is a lot of activism," said the leader. "But I haven’t seen it within the framework of the Jewish community. Maybe it’s taken for granted that Hillary is going to do well in the Jewish community."
Noting that Sen. Clinton was overwhelmingly re-elected in 2006, the leader noted that "the people who voted for [2006 Republican candidate John Spencer] aren’t going to vote for Obama. They’re going to sit it out."
Obama, for his part, has some prominent Jewish support in Illinois, including philanthropist Alan Solomont, who reportedly played a role in convincing Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy to endorse Obama this week, despite Kennedy’s ties to the Clintons.
That endorsement’s impact on Jews could be substantial: "The Kennedy endorsement for Jews on the left means that [Obama] shares the same values as they do: pluralism, strong support for health care reform and other liberal issues," says Sheinkopf.
Not only has there been little campaigning in the tri-state area, but there have been hardly any commercials. This could have an impact on turnouts, said Sheinkopf, because it lowers awareness and hampers decision-making.
"They have not invested the money because the media market here is expensive."
Because an overwhelming number of American Jews are Democrats, the contests will yield more data about them than Republicans. An American Jewish Committee survey last November found 58 percent of respondents were Democrats, only 15 percent Republican, and 24 percent independent.
With Giuliani out of the race, McCain is most likely to benefit among Jews, says Sheinkopf.
"Jewish Republicans, who have grown by some percentage, will find McCain a more comfortable replacement for Rudy than the other candidates," said Sheinkopf.
But Forman of NJDC counseled that not much data will be gleaned from Jewish Republicans. "The Jewish vote is so insignificant in the Republican primary in all these states, even in Florida where [the population] is 9 percent Jewish. My guess is if they don’t get significant numbers of Jews they won’t report it at all."
But the New York director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Greg Menken, said that more important than Republican registration numbers was Jewish support for Republican candidates in the general election.
"What we have seen, especially in New York, is that Jewish voters are going to vote for Republicans because of the issues that are resonating and important," Menken said. "This is a critical election for all Americans, and Israel is particularly important. There are major differences between the parties."
(see story on page 28) and reached out to some Jewish newspapers in a bid to win their endorsements.