Clinton scores with Jewish Democrats
Acknowledged as most popular presidential candidate addressing NJDC.
By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
April 29, 2007 01:49
3 minute read.
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All seven major Democratic presidential candidates addressed the National Jewish Democratic Council this past week, but only one had two supporters introduce her. Hillary Clinton also received the most applause and ovations before, during and after her speech.
Even those NJDC activists who aren't backing Clinton in the primary campaign acknowledged that she was the most popular choice in the hall, according to several attendees interviewed by The Jerusalem Post.
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The NJDC, which describes itself as the country's only organization of Jewish Democrats, counts top political donors and activists among its members.
The other top two Democratic contenders - former vice presidential candidate John Edwards and Illinois Senator Barack Obama - had substantial support at the NJDC and some backers could be found for just about everyone.
As go the Jews, so goes the Democratic Party. Or perhaps it's the other way around.
"She [Clinton] didn't deliver the knockout she wanted to deliver at the beginning of the campaign," said Ken Goldstein, the Mosse visiting professor of political sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "She wasn't able to land a knockout blow with Jewish Democrats either."
"The Clinton people have to be disappointed because the Clinton strategy was to try to clear the field" from the beginning of the race, Goldstein assessed. "It's still her race to lose, but that being said, it's a race."
Clinton enjoys strong Jewish support due to her standing as a popular senator from the state with the country's largest Jewish population, her work promoting Jewish issues and support for Israel, and the popularity her husband enjoyed among Jews when he was president.
But Virginia-based pollster Frank Luntz, who has worked with Republican candidates in the past, said Clinton was losing support across the board. He pointed to polls that three months ago gave her more than 40 percent of the popular support, but now give her numbers in the mid-30s.
Luntz also said that when it comes to the Jewish community, Clinton has been haunted by her past - specifically an infamous photo of her hugging Yasser Arafat's wife, Suha, on a visit as first lady to the Palestinian Authority.
However, one Democratic political operative, who asked not to be named, said Clinton was stronger than some of her competitors because she's already made her mistakes and learned from them. He pointed to Obama as someone who, in contrast, would be hurt by his lack of experience, and gave as an example Obama's statement at the NJDC conference on the need for a "tough discussion" with Israel about working toward a two-state solution.
The operative said that "Hillary understands not to do that."
She also understood how to hit all the right notes during her speech.
More than one observer noted that the NJDC audience cared at least as much about domestic issues as about foreign policy, if not more, and some speakers barely touched on domestic issues.
While Edwards and Obama devoted significant portions of their speeches to domestic concerns - to applause - Clinton went much further.
She spoke in detail on several issues key to that constituency - stem cell research, church-state relations and early education - that the other candidates mentioned only briefly. Virtually every such point Clinton touched on was met with applause.
She also didn't have to trot her Jewish credentials out in front of everyone. While others led off with references to their trips to Israel or family connections to the Jewish community, Clinton simply commented, "I feel like I'm at a family reunion."
Clinton's experience at her husband's side is one of the major reasons Arthur Schechter, a former NJDC chairman, supports her. "Hillary could walk into that office tomorrow and understand what needs to be done to govern," said Schechter, whom Bill Clinton tapped to be ambassador to the Bahamas.
He said those at the NJDC who didn't support her were "concerned about Hillary's electability," an acknowledgement of how many strong candidates have entered the race.
Many also have long-standing ties to the other candidates.
Current NJDC Chairman Michael Adler, for instance, has long been close with Delaware Senator Joe Biden. He said he's supporting Biden for his leadership abilities and proven experience.
But Adler acknowledged that Clinton "definitely" had the most support among NJDC members and that Obama and Edwards enjoyed more backing than Biden did. He noted that New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd also have NJDC backers.
And some donors will give to more than one campaign.
"It's a long campaign and one never knows how it will turn out," he said. "They [the candidates] are all important. Whether they win or lose isn't the issue. The NJDC needs to have relations with all [of them]."