Jewish voters hold 'Havdala for Obama,' 'Chai for Hillary' events

Jewish voters hold 'Havdala for Obama,' 'Chai for Hillary' events.

us special 2 224 (photo credit:)
us special 2 224
(photo credit: )
In addition to his stance on the peace process and health care, supporters of Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama have some additional reasons why they think Jewish voters should pick their candidate.For starters, Rob Levy told a "Havdala for Obama" fundraiser held here Saturday night that his first name sounds like the Hebrew word for lightning, and Obama "sure brings the lightning." And for those looking for weightier connections, Levy called attention to Obama's campaign theme of hope."We are a people defined by hope - hope for many dark years has sustained us," he said, pointing out that the title of Israel's national anthem means "The Hope.""That is so much why so many of us stand behind this campaign so strongly," he said.Levy was speaking to a Jewish audience, but the 150 people who turned out within a few days' notice to hear about Obama resembled the young, progressive enthusiasts everywhere that have powered his campaign elsewhere in the country.The demographic has helped Obama surge in primaries across the country as he added Maine, Louisiana, Nebraska and Washington state to his list of wins following contests in those places this weekend. While Clinton still maintains a narrow lead in the number of delegates to the national party nominating convention, if pledged super delegates are factored in she has also slipped in polls of Tuesday's votes: Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC.Those polls - which have Clinton trailing by double digits - as well as the results of the weekend competitions led Clinton to shake up her campaign team, assigning a new campaign manager. She's also had to inject $5 million of her own money into the race as Obama continues to rack up donations.Also this weekend, Mike Huckabee bested John McCain in Kansas and Louisiana, though McCain pulled out a win in Washington state and has far more delegates than his foe. Huckabee is not viewed as a serious challenge to McCain for the Republican nomination, as McCain - who leads Washington, or "Potomac" area polls - is expected to add to his considerable delegate lead on Tuesday.The Clinton and the Obama campaigns, though, are fighting for the Jewish vote in the Washington metro area and adjacent states. Though Clinton won the constituency in her own state - New York - and next door New Jersey last Tuesday, she lost it in nearby Connecticut and Massachusetts. She also seems to have narrowly lost it in California, where exit polls with small samples and sizable margins of error originally gave her the lead.Obama's strong showing among at least some Jewish communities is particularly notable because he has faced questions from some quarters about his commitment to Israel, as well as having been subject to a virulent e-mail campaign falsely labeling him a hidden Muslim.His supporters Saturday night were eager to put to rest the issues that have been raised, stressing his strong support for Israel and that his relatively young age shouldn't be a barrier."Ever since David slew Goliath, the Jewish people have never seen youth as a barrier to leadership," Jewish Illinois Rep. Janice Schakowsky said, repeating a comment she had heard once that she felt applied well to Obama, whom she has endorsed.And though some have criticized Obama for his willingness to speak to Iran directly to try to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons, Levy defended the approach as intrinsically Jewish. "When it comes to talking - well, what's more Jewish than that?" he quipped.Elsewhere over the weekend, Jewish congressmen who have endorsed Obama met with Jewish constituents to persuade them to vote for him.The Clinton campaign did likewise over the past several days and had Jewish supporters call voters on the candidate's behalf to speak about her views on Israel, Iran and other relevant issues.Rebecca Geller, who helped found the Chai for Hillary group in DC, said the response she received when working the phone banks this weekend was "overwhelming.""They're so happy to talk to us," she said of Jewish voters. "It quickly becomes a conversation [like] I have with my Jewish grandmother. It's very different from regular calls" to other voters."The Clinton campaign has been reaching out to the Jewish community for many months, and we are very pleased with the response," said Ann Lewis, a senior campaign adviser who does outreach to the Jewish community. "Our Chai for Hillary effort has helped bring in many young Jewish supporters, and they are working tirelessly for our effort."Steve Rabinowitz, a Jewish political strategist who supports Clinton, said campaign efforts at this point should be focused on getting voters to the polls, not getting them on board."It's too late to be doing persuasion, certainly not in the Jewish community, which makes up its mind early," Rabinowitz said, adding that Clinton "already enjoys the support of the Jewish community. Now they [campaign workers] are concentrating on turning them out to vote."At least one recent development could play into Clinton's hands, however. On Sunday, Obama received the endorsement of Virginia Representative Jim Moran, who has infuriated segments of the Jewish community for suggesting the Israel lobby was behind America's decision to invade Iraq, among other statements."It won't sit well with people who are single-issue, pro-Israel voters," said one Washington Jewish leader tracking the campaigns, who added that it could affect the race "at the margins" by "giving ammunition" to those who seek to portray Obama as weak on Israel.National Jewish Democratic Council executive director Ira Forman maintained, though, that the endorsement would have a "pretty minimal" impact. "The people who are looking closely at this issue will look hard and fast at what Hillary and Obama have said on Israel [and their voting records]. I don't think a Jim Moran endorsement will make any difference."The Obama campaign put out a statement stressing that he doesn't accept all of the views of all of his endorsers. "There are clear instances where he disagrees with views expressed by individual supporters, and that is the case with Congressman Moran's comments on the Jewish community's role in the decision to wage war in Iraq," the statement said. "Senator Obama is proud of his close and long-standing ties to the Jewish community."His campaign is also trying to position the endorsement as a sign of momentum behind the senator from both grassroots groups and established Democratic players.If the grassroots activists who turned out Saturday night needed any more convincing, the organizers wove Obama references into the ceremony they held to mark the end of Shabbat at the start of the $18-suggested-donation fundraiser.The havdala spices were used to remind voters that "Barack adds sweet spice to the world of politics," and the prayer for the separation between the holy and profane was coupled with the words that "more unites than divides us, but distinctions count." And, as is traditional, the ritual ended with refrains of "Shavua tov," or "Have a good week."In Obama parlance that meant: "a good week - a good Potomac primary." His supporters will find out if they got that on Tuesday.