Analyze This: Ninja turtle mogul Saban rallies around Obama

Can he woo the rest of the wavering Jewish Democrats?

haim saban 88 (photo credit: )
haim saban 88
(photo credit: )
Barack Obama went to Denver last week to reassure mainstream America voters that, despite his "funny-sounding name," he's a regular guy just like them. A small but key component of that group is those Jewish Democrats with particular reason to need that reassurance. Despite their party ties and approval of Obama's liberal domestic policies, they remain nervous over Obama's links to radical African-American circles where sympathy for the Palestinians shades into deep enmity toward Israel; concerned he won't take a tough line against Iran; and disappointed in the simple fact that his name, even if it were just plain Joe Smith, is still not Hillary Clinton. How many of these voters Obama managed to nail down by his performance at the Democratic convention and his selection of Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate, remains to be seen. But at least he can rest easy that he now has the single most important American-Jewish Democrat of this ilk firmly in his quarter: Haim Saban. Though the Israeli-American media mogul may not be the richest member of his particular ethnic voting bloc, he is certainly the most generous when it comes to sharing his wealth with politicians. Saban is the largest individual campaign donor of either party during the past decade, to the tune of some $13 million - an amount that doesn't include the millions more he is credited with securing for his preferred candidates as a fund-raising schnorrer par excellence. The primary beneficiaries of that largesse have been the Clintons, with whom he is personally close. He was a key backer of Hillary Clinton's race for the White House, and when that bid fizzled last spring, there was concern in Democratic circles that a dispirited Saban might not so enthusiastically shift his largesse to Obama - especially since the candidate has decided to eschew any public campaign financing, and rely only on private donations. Those worries have now been answered, according to Saban himself in an interview just published in the magazine Portfolio. Any earlier concerns he might have on the depth of Obama's commitment to Israel, he said, were largely answered by the candidate's speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in which he spoke of the past political bonds between Jews and African-Americans in the civil rights movement. "Him being aware of that, acknowledging that, shows that he may have a visceral commitment, as opposed to a logical or strategic one," said Saban. "That visceral affinity was a question mark for a lot of people. Well, it's no longer a question mark for me." Saban is fond of describing himself as "right-wing crazy" when it comes to security issues, in particular when it comes to Israel. He's no such thing, of course, except perhaps in the trendy Left Hollywood circles in which he moves. But he is emblematic of those Jewish Democrats who invested heavily in Hillary Clinton's candidacy, trusted her judgment on Israel and Iran, and have been slow to jump on the Obama bandwagon as it rolls into the campaign's autumn homestretch. Despite the best efforts of both Clintons at Denver to rally their former troops behind Obama, the Republicans clearly perceive Hillary's disappointed supporters as the weak underbelly in the Democratic camp. John McCain's selection of little-known Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate was clearly aimed directly at this constituency, especially those who were disappointed that a woman failed to make it onto the national ticket. Though the socially conservative Palin might not make any of those voters switch tickets, it could make it easier for them to justify not bothering going to polls in November to cast ballots that Obama will need in a tight race. These ranks include a relatively tiny, yet still potentially critical number of centrist American-Jewish voters in such key "battleground states" as Florida and Pennsylvania. They share the outlook, if not the wealth or influence, of a Haim Saban. In this race the vote of each and every one will likely be crucial. McCain has unexpectedly played the gender card with his bold pick of Palin, and has reaffirmed "maverick" credentials that earn him support across party lines. As a result, Obama and his staunchest Jewish supporters will have to work that much harder to convince those Jewish Democrats such as Saban whose head may say the time has come to rally behind their party's standard-bearer, but whose hearts still belong to Hillary. [email protected]