How Penn's Jewish governor tried to give Clinton a boost

Rendell to 'Post': Democratic candidate will dominate the Jewish demographic.

rendell hillary 88 (photo credit: )
rendell hillary 88
(photo credit: )
Voters went to the polls here Tuesday after the Democratic presidential candidates spent the past six weeks scouring the state for votes in a contest that could determine the national race's outcome. Though Illinois Sen. Barack Obama has outspent his rival more than two-to-one and brought out the crowds at rallies, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton maintained a lead of as much as 10 points in polls going into the primary. She has benefited from local roots (her father's hometown is Scranton), appeal among the state's key working class constituency and a little help from friends who include a panoply of municipal and state politicians. She has also benefited from a lot of help from Gov. Ed Rendell. A powerhouse political operator, Rendell is credited with helping Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry wrest the state from US President George W. Bush in 2004. With a major political machine and an outsize personality, he's the type of endorser everyone wants in his corner. He also has a special appeal to the Jewish community, because of his Jewish background. As Robin Schatz, the director of government affairs for the Greater Philadelphia Jewish Federation, put it, "It doesn't hurt that... Governor Rendell, who's beyond popular, has backed her." Though Clinton can count many loyal backers in the Jewish community, those familiar with the constituency, including Schatz, say it appears to be split fairly evenly between Clinton and Obama. While Clinton has strong support from women and older voters, Obama appeals to young voters and professionals. But Rendell, speaking to The Jerusalem Post ahead of Primary Day, said he expected his candidate to dominate the demographic group. "I look to Senator Clinton to sweep the Jewish vote decisively," he declared. He said that his own endorsement "helps to a degree" among Jewish voters, adding that they would make up their own minds - before enumerating Clinton's qualities in a bid to put her on top. "I think Jewish voters are very smart, and they're not going to vote for a presidential candidate because a governor tells them to," he said. "But I think Senator Clinton has a wonderful record on Israel, a wonderful record on foreign affairs, a wonderful record on the domestic issues that are important to we Jews, so I think she's going to get the vast majority of the Jewish vote." Rendell is popular among Jews for his cultural rather than religious affinity with the faith. "I don't wear my Jewishness on my sleeve. I don't fake going to synagogue on High Holy Days. But I've tried to help Jewish causes in every way that I could, both domestically, here in Philadelphia and in the state, as well as in Israel," he told the Post. "I'm not a practicing Jew. I was never bar mitzvahed. My dad, who died when I was 14, told me he wasn't going to raise us in organized religion, but he wanted us always, my brother and I, to remember that we were Jews and help Jews both here and in Israel whenever we could. And I've tried to do that." And while Rendell might not have advertised his Jewishness, he also hasn't shied away from it. "I probably lose some votes because I'm Jewish, but those people probably weren't voting for a big city progressive mayor of Philadelphia anyway," he said. Obama's not without Jewish backers of his own - the dynamic, well-spoken Josh Shapiro, now the deputy speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and an up-and-coming politician, has been campaigning tirelessly on Obama's behalf, emphasizing his judgment and vision. The campaign has also brought in endorsers such as Florida US Rep. Robert Wexler to Pennsylvania to speak to the Jewish community. But Clinton clearly has an advantage with a heavyweight like Rendell on her side. As the Washington Post described Rendell, who is particularly adept at fund-raising and getting out the vote, "He knows where the Clintons should appear, he knows who they should appear with, he knows when, he knows why. He knows everything." The newspaper then quotes Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe on the 30-year veteran of Pennsylvania politics: "Let's be crystal clear... He is running the state of Pennsylvania for us." Just Monday night, as an estimated 7,000 cheering supporters packed themselves into the University of Pennsylvania arena at Clinton's last campaign stop, Rendell revved up the audience by telling it: "We all better get used to saying two words: Madame President." All of Rendell's efforts, though, might not be enough to sway the national race Clinton's way. Analysts have said that a victory on Tuesday is not sufficient for Clinton to prevail, as she trails Obama in the delegate count considerably. She needs to win by a large enough margin to not only pile up a significant number of Pennsylvania delegates, but also to make the argument to uncommitted superdelegates that she is more electable in the national election this November. Rendell has acknowledged it's a tall order - in this case his gift for gab getting a little too glib for the comfort of some Clinton campaigners. "It's Gettysburg," Rendell said in the Washington Post story. "If the North lost at Gettysburg, it was over." This week he said, "It's important she win and important she win decisively." Meanwhile, the Obama camp hasn't predicted victory in the contest - but that it would do well enough to continue to be on top. "I'm predicting that it's going to be close and that we are going to do a lot better than people expect," Obama said going into Tuesday's vote.