Cantor - McCain's key to Jewish votes?

Congressman emerges as serious candidate for VP job; McCain campaign refuses to confirm reports.

mccain smiles 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
mccain smiles 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
First John McCain enlisted the support of the country's only Jewish vice presidential nominee, Joe Lieberman, who ran on the Democratic ticket in 2000. Now he might tap a Jewish vice presidential choice of his own: Eric Cantor. The 45-year-old fourth-term congressman from Virginia has emerged as a serious - if still long-shot - candidate for the VP job in recent days, though the McCain campaign wouldn't confirm reports that Cantor has made the short list. Cantor, the House of Representative's chief deputy minority whip, is known as a rising star in the Republican party with a talent for fund-raising. He also has roots in the Richmond, Virginia Jewish community and is a staunch supporter of Israel - where a cousin of his was killed in a terror attack two years ago. Like Lieberman, Cantor is also an active surrogate for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Asked Monday about his conversations with the McCain campaign about the vice presidency during a media conference call on McCain's energy policy, Cantor declined to comment. "This press conference is about the energy plan," he said. His office didn't return calls from The Jerusalem Post. The possibility was greeted with enthusiasm in Jewish Republican circles, as well as some GOP pockets where Cantor's pro-life and other staunchly conservative views could help assuage voters worried about McCain's "maverick" reputation. "I have heard many, many Jewish Republicans come up to him to tell him that as the only Jewish Republican in the House of Representatives he is serving as their "shadow Congressman" - representing Jewish Republicans everywhere who feel un-represented by their Member of Congress," said William Daroff, the former deputy executive director of the Republican Jewish coalition, who has traveled extensively with Cantor. "Congressman Cantor's nomination would help to shore up Senator McCain's socially conservative base nationally and guarantee that Virginia stays Republican, while at the same time give Jewish voters in key battleground states, such as Florida and Ohio, pause to consider the GOP ticket." University of Wisconsin political scientist Ken Goldstein, who tracks the Jewish vote, said the choice of Cantor would energize the Jewish community, though it wouldn't necessarily sway large numbers of voters. "There'd be great excitement in the Jewish community," he said, but added, "There was greater excitement with Lieberman, because it was the first time [there was a Jewish VP nominee] and it was the party that the majority of Jews vote for." Another political expert, Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, said such a move could help McCain at the margins in key states with Jewish populations, particularly Florida, where there are some Jewish voters "who aren't signed, sealed and delivered" to Obama. He also said his ties to Virginia and his youth could make him an attractive candidate for McCain. "It reflects at least some thinking in the McCain campaign that they might have to roll the dice - not go with the conventional choice and play it safe." At the same time, he noted that such a choice could "undercut" McCain's argument that voters should choose him because of his experience and foreign policy prowess, two areas where Cantor is weaker. Steve Rabinowitz, a long-time Jewish Democratic operative, was more blunt. "It's funny that he [McCain] is attacking Obama, alleging that he's not experienced enough - Eric Cantor's younger than Barack Obama." He also described Cantor as virtually unknown in the Jewish community, questioning how much he could boost a Republican ticket. "I'm not sure there's a single Jew outside of Virginia who's ever heard of him," he said. "Lots of people today are talking about it right now. They're all going, 'Who?'"