Florida's Jews throw support to Clinton

Jewish voters back the Democratic Presidential hopeful by 53 percent to Obama's 26%.

clinton obama 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
clinton obama 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Florida's Jewish voters turned out in large numbers for Sen. Hillary Clinton Tuesday, insisting that their voices be heard even though the state has been stripped of delegates to this summer's national Democratic nominating convention. Clinton tried to take advantage of the symbolic win, telling cheering supporters in southern Florida, "Thank you for this tremendous victory tonight!" While Clinton didn't make much of a similar outcome in Michigan early this month, in another contest where no delegates were awarded, her decision to play up Florida's vote is in part a sign of the tight race she's now in with Sen. Barack Obama. She hopes the results - delivered by a record Democratic turnout despite the lack of delegates - will be seen as a major endorsement of her viability. And according to exit polls, Jewish voters were among her most enthusiastic endorsers. They backed Clinton by 53 percent to Obama's 26% and John Edwards 13%, which was slightly more for the New York senator than among all voters. Overall, 50% went for Clinton, 33% chose Obama and 14% selected Edwards, who ended up dropping out of the race Wednesday. Several Jewish Clinton supporters said they attended her victory speech Tuesday night because they agreed with her positions on domestic issues such as education and labor. But many also said Israel and other Jewish concerns played a role. "She's supportive of Israel," said Elaine Geller, a real estate agent. "There isn't anything that I can think of her being more supportive on." Geller said Clinton had already won her over during her tenure as first lady from 1993 to 2001. Her daughter celebrated her bat mitzva during that time, and Geller sent an invitation to the Clintons. Though she had no personal connection to president Bill Clinton and the first lady, she received a hand-written response "truly understanding what a bat mitzva means," according to Geller. "It was so heartful." On Tuesday night it was time for Geller and other supporters to show their heartfelt enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton - and to push for the Democratic National Committee to allow Florida delegates to vote in the national convention. The state was stripped of delegates after the Florida state legislature moved its primary up to January 29, well ahead of the earliest date, February 5, that the Democratic National Committee allowed states to hold their contests. "It's reprehensible. It's terrible," said 27-year-old legal assistant Lisa Steinberg. "Everybody should have a voice with their vote." But Steinberg, who waited around after the event Tuesday night to get a picture with Clinton, maintained that the lack of delegates wouldn't hurt Clinton because regardless, "she's got a lot of power behind her." Other supporters said their voices were indeed heard with the vote last night - and that they were sure Florida's delegates would end up counting. "I believe they will be seated at the Democratic National Convention in Denver," said Ira Rosenberg, a local resident who works on behalf of the National Association of Letter Carriers. "They'll seat them. They have to. They're not going to disenfranchise the entire state of Florida," Geller asserted. But she added that the lack of a full-fledged Democratic campaign or the promise of delegate seats didn't undermine Clinton's claim to an important victory here. "If anything, it enhances it, because she didn't campaign here," Geller argued. Clinton tried to make that argument implicitly when she addressed the crowd Tuesday night, and to build up momentum before the 22 Democratic contests scheduled for next Tuesday. "I couldn't come here in person to ask you for your votes, but I'm here to thank you for your votes today," she said to cheers. Optimistic Floridians aren't the only ones betting on their delegates counting. There is speculation that the importance of Florida nationally - as a large, diverse swing state that could make the difference in November's national election - and the tightness of the Clinton-Obama race could lead the DNC to reinstate the state's delegates. Despite the DNC's punishment, and the candidates' agreement that they wouldn't campaign before the primary in Florida, Clinton pledged to work to include Florida delegates in the national convention. "I promise you I will do everything I can to make sure not only are Florida's delegates seated, but that Florida is in the winning column for the Democrats in November," she declared to enthusiastic applause. Obama surrogates have fired back by emphasizing that the win is meaningless given the lack of delegates and that Clinton was willing to abide by the DNC decision on Michigan and Florida when her campaign was doing better. Only about 4% of the Florida population, Jews accounted for an outsized 9% of the votes cast in the Democratic primary; in contrast Jews cast 3% of the ballots for Republicans, though the exit poll sample was too small to assess which candidate the constituency backed. However, anecdotally Jews were seen to have favored former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who lost badly and was expected to endorse Sen. John McCain on Wednesday. His Jewish supporters are likely to follow his lead. The candidates share similarities, as they both rely heavily on their national security credentials and are viewed as unconventional Republicans who don't always sit well with the party's conservative base. Many Jewish Republicans had been debating between the two men before the race and now the choice is made for them. While the impact of the Florida vote on the overall race was clear, as it pushed out Giuliani and handed McCain the front-runner mantle, Democratic backers of Clinton argued that it should do the same for Clinton. Struggling to be heard over chants of "Hill-a-ry! Hill-a-ry!" from the audience, US Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a rising Jewish lawmaker who represents a heavily Jewish southern Florida district, shouted: "Did we show them that Florida counts?" Those in the crowd roared back yes, but the rest of the country still has to be convinced that they're right.