Lieberman helps woo Florida's Jews for McCain in Republican primary

Former vice presidential candidate helps woo Florida's Jews for "clear-headed" Arizona senator.

Joe Lieberman 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Joe Lieberman 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
To explain his unorthodox decision to endorse Republican presidential candidate John McCain, one-time Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman used a very Orthodox metaphor. "The rabbis say in the Talmud that a lot of rabbinic law is to put a fence around the Torah so you don't get near to violating it," he told The Jerusalem Post on a break from the campaign in Southern Florida on behalf of his colleague. "Well McCain has a series of very clear-headed policies toward terrorism and Islamic extremism [that put] extra layers behind his support of Israel." In fact, it was differences on many of the foreign policy issues connected to the Middle East and the War on Terror that contributed to Lieberman's breaking with the Democrats and running for reelection to the US Senate in 2006 as an independent after losing the Democratic nomination for his Connecticut seat. Now he is trying to use his appeal in the Jewish community - Democrat and Republican alike - to win over primary voters based primarily on his touting of McCain's national security credentials. McCain, the Arizona senator who has won two primary contests so far, is in a tough race ahead of the Florida vote Tuesday. He is deadlocked in the polls with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who has won in Michigan and Nevada, and is being trailed by former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Arizona governor Mike Huckabee. McCain - with his "maverick" label and occasional breaks with his own party - has relied on independents to win his other races, but only registered Republicans can vote in Florida Tuesday. One Republican constituency, though, that fits a more independent profile is the Jewish community. Jewish Republicans have largely backed Giuliani because they prefer his liberal views on social issues, his New York connection - where many of them are from originally - and his leadership following September 11. But Lieberman said it is McCain, with his demonstrated bipartisanship and his experience as a war hero and in the senate, who should appeal to voters looking for a strong hand in the post-9/11 reality. When it comes to Iranian President Mahmoud Admadinejad's threats to wipe Israel off the map, he explained, "Senator McCain has seen enough over his lifetime to take those words literally." From that comes his stance that, "We're not rushing to military action, but he's said, there is one thing worse than taking military action against Iran, and that is Iran that has nuclear weapons." McCain, of course, also has Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, on his side. Giuliani and Romney have each used Jewish proxies to appeal to the Florida constituency (Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman and former ambassador Mel Sembler respectively). But Lieberman carries significant heft in the community as the man who in 2000 almost became the first Jewish vice president - but for a few hundred votes in Florida. Lieberman doesn't want to lose those few hundred people for his candidate this time. He's looking for votes among Jews - visiting Jewish facilities and making Talmudic allusions - though his reputation as a staunch Israel supporter and moralist could also help with over some evangelicals, voters McCain has struggled to attract. It certainly could help with Jews. Jewish University of Miami demographer Ira Sheskin referred to the "interesting phenomenon" of Lieberman appealing to Jewish audiences on behalf of McCain. "That's probably something that's hurt him with Giuliani," he assessed. Arlene Herson supports Romney but attended a recent event here with Lieberman where he talked about Israel and other issues of concern to the Jewish community in pushing for McCain. "He gave one of the best political speeches I've ever heard and I think that people who were on the fence were swayed," she said. Ronald Krongold is one wavering local Republican Jew who said Lieberman's appeal helped pull him towards McCain, though he was still undecided over the weekend. He said he always like McCain, but that he was particularly impressed when Lieberman came out for him. "When Lieberman came out and endorsed him, that meant a lot because I think he's a really honest and when it comes to really important decision … he makes decisions that are best for the country," he said. A couple of Jewish voters said that if McCain would put Lieberman on the ticket as his running mate, they would be won over. But Lieberman told the Post he has no intention of running for vice president this year. "Been there, done that," he said, noting that the subject hadn't come up between the two men and that he had every intention of remaining in his current job. Then he added, "It would be nice to be a senator with a friend like John McCain in the White House."