Clinton rallies support for Obama, but many Jewish voters aren't convinced

Obama's nat'l polling numbers among Jews never compared to Clinton's, who benefited from her long-standing ties to the Jewish community.

clinton democratic convention 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
clinton democratic convention 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Hillary Clinton stood before a sea of cheering supporters, with thousands waving placards displaying her name and standing for several minutes in a rousing welcome when she took the stage to endorse her former competitor here Tuesday night.
Clinton, who came into the presidential campaign as the heavy favorite for the nomination only to see her lead and political support erode in the face of Barack Obama's challenge, concluded her speech by echoing the words of abolitionist Harriet Tubman as she gave advice to slaves escaping via the underground railroad.
"If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If they're shouting after you, keep going. Don't ever stop. Keep going!" she said to enthusiastic applause.
Clinton's words echoed her rhetoric on the campaign trail as Obama had racked up primary wins and delegates, who ultimately determine who gets the nomination.
But this time, Clinton had a different conclusion, pushing her rival's cause rather than her own: "Remember, before we can keep going, we've got to get going - by electing Barack Obama the next president of the United States."
Though she concluded her sometimes forceful, sometimes humorous remarks by strongly backing the man who will accept the nomination Thursday night, and sources close to the Obama campaign indicated they were satisfied with her speech, it was a reminder that she had not bowed out so easily, that she had pushed for a roll-call vote on the convention floor and had legions of supporters eager for her not to concede.
Wednesday night's partial roll-call vote, before Clinton herself took to the floor to call for Obama's nomination by acclamation, allowed at least some of her delegates to vote for her in a show of support for her achievement.
Many of the strongest of those supporters are to be found in the Jewish community, particularly among Jewish women, some of whom have been leading the charge to stay loyal to Clinton even as Obama receives the nomination. Others have been lining up - in some cases reluctantly, even painfully - behind the candidate, some because he was a strong second choice, some out of concern for party unity and some because they feel both candidates share their values more than any Republican.
And some, like Steve Grossman, are doing it because Clinton told them to.
"When the Democratic primary process is over, and Hillary tells me [both] privately and publicly that this is a time to come together and we have to do everything we can to help Barack Obama, I take that as a moral imperative," said the long-time Clinton supporter, fundraiser and Jewish community leader, who described himself as "disappointed" by her loss.
He wasn't the only one.
"It hurt my heart that Hillary wasn't chosen," said Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, a strong Clinton supporter who campaigned among women and Jewish voters throughout the state.
But she continued that "it hasn't been difficult" making the transition "because I really believe in the values of the Democratic party," which Clinton and Obama share.
She's now stumping for Obama in Florida - which had been a Clinton stronghold, particularly in the Jewish community - in a process she assessed as "going very well." Grossman said the community was "eminently persuadable," and that he was fully invested in that persuasion, but that it would take time.
"There's a coming-together process that's not yet complete. They're still in a mourning period."
Though Obama did well among Jews in many primaries, winning that vote in several states, his national polling numbers in the community never compared to Clinton's, who benefited from her long-standing ties to the community dating back to her husband's time in office, and cultivated in her current role as a senator for New York State.
"The Clintons have been very popular in the Jewish community," acknowledged Alan Solomont, a major Jewish fund-raiser and early supporter of Obama's. But, he added, "The Jewish community, especially those of us who are Democrats, understands that this is probably the most important election in their lifetime and people are coming together to support Barack Obama."
He noted that the long, difficult campaign had not only raised passions but left less time for reconciliation before the convention than usual.
Still, he said, "The effort to bring the Democrats and particularly Jewish Democrats [together] is coming along very successfully."
Some, though, have not jumped aboard. And the efforts to stay with Clinton rather than rally behind Obama are in many cases led by Jewish women who feel betrayed by a Democratic party that is backing her competitor.
Ricki Lieberman was planning to make her first trip to the convention since 1968 to support Clinton's nomination, but cancelled once it became clear that it wouldn't happen. She has only partly accepted that reality, however, as she has continued to maintain a newsletter "Suspending not Ending," sent out to thousands of like-minded supporters, referring to Clinton's decision to suspend her campaign rather than end it.
A "Hill-raiser" who helped raise more than $100,000 for Clinton, she and dozens of others would each call 18 superdelegates - "chai," or the Jewish number for good luck, she points out - to urge them to vote for Clinton over Obama at the convention.
"We reminded them that their sole responsibility in Denver is selecting the electable candidate," she said. "Nothing else matters."
That candidate, in her view, would clearly be Clinton. And despite being a life-long Democrat, she doesn't know if she'll vote for Obama come Election Day. She cited his association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who has been very critical of Israel, as being among the reasons she didn't feel he was fit. She admitted, though, that many other Clinton supporters she knew would "hold their nose" and vote for the Illinois senator.
"It takes some time. Are there going to be some defections? Of course. There always is. But I don't think it's going to be decisive," said a major Democratic strategist speaking anonymously. "At the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of people who supported Hillary Clinton are going to support Barack Obama."
He added that most Jewish Clinton supporters who had reservations about Barack Obama were reacting to his middle name - Hussein - and other factors that made them uncomfortable, not just their allegiance to Clinton.
That means that Clinton would probably be one the best campaign surrogates to put those issues to rest, and she visited Florida recently in just such an effort.
Effman is one of those Florida Jewish Democrats that has strongly supported Clinton. A delegate from Broward County, she plans to cast her vote for Clinton despite her interest in party unity. She noted an "obligation" to the voters of Florida who had supported the New York Senator.
She said she will proudly support Obama in the general election, but that for now, it was difficult. Asked when it had finally sunk in that Clinton hadn't won the nomination, she responded, "I think it's going to be Thursday."