McCain looks to strong showing in New Hampshire

4th place still looks good to McCain, his Jewish supporters as he heads to the Granite State.

mccain 88 (photo credit: )
mccain 88
(photo credit: )
When Arizona Sen. John McCain took the stage before Thursday's first-in-the-nation caucuses held here Thursday night, he thanked several fellow senators who had joined him on stage to show their support. He also mentioned another senator - Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut - who wasn't present because he was campaigning for him in New Hampshire. McCain promotes his alliance with Lieberman, an independent and an Orthodox Jew who was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000, to show off his bipartisan credentials, and his reference to his "favorite Democrat" before the conservative Iowa audience who had braved the cold to greet him elicited cheers. But those weren't the only Iowa voters pleased at the reference. Iowa's small but active Republican Jewish constituency has been pleased by McCain's relationship with Lieberman, one of several things that have attracted them to the former naval aviator and POW. "The fact that Lieberman affiliated with [McCain] brought him up with a certain quadrant of the Jewish community," said a Jewish leader in Iowa, though he also referred to support for other candidates, including former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. McCain had never been expected to win Iowa, but his numbers crept up following strong debate performances and endorsements by a string of newspapers, including the influential Des Moines Register. He came in fourth with a narrow loss to third place challenger Fred Thompson, a former Tennessee senator, who had pumped money into TV ads, unlike McCain. It was close enough to boost a campaign once entirely written off. McCain, whose popularity is building in New Hampshire, a state he won decisively when challenging George W. Bush for the nomination in 2004, is also buoyed by the fact that former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee trounced the No. 2 Republican finisher here, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Romney has led many polls in New Hampshire, and McCain hopes his competitor's slide will follow him to the Granite State. New Hampshire will hold the US's first primary on Tuesday. McCain needed support from groups such as Jews, who are more open to entertaining alternatives to Huckabee and Romney. The latter two have focused on faith and emphasized the importance of Christian values in their campaigns. Romney gave a landmark speech in which he defended religious freedom in America following attacks on his Mormon faith, referring to his belief that "Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind"; Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister, has run ads referring to his Christian credentials and often speaks on religious themes. "The candidates that are speaking a religious language are alienating to the Jewish population," said the Jewish leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He described separation of church and state as "the No. 1" issue for the Jewish community, explaining, "A society that's [focused on] religiosity tends to overlook minorities, and we're a minority." Iowa's Jews number a mere 5,000-6,000 out of a population of 2.9 million and are concentrated in Des Moines, Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. There they are largely involved with university positions - and are joined by Jewish students in Iowa City and Ames - as well as white collar jobs in the capital, Des Moines. This stands in contrast to most Iowans, who are heavily involved in agriculture and related manufacturing enterprises. McCain has also said he believed that America was founded as a "Christian nation" in an interview that raised Jewish ire, but has made religion less a focus of the campaign. In the past he has inflamed the evangelical community so supportive of Huckabee by calling some of their leaders "agents of intolerance" and slighting them in other comments. Giuliani, a Catholic, has been the least focused of the top tier candidates on religion, but he opted not to campaign in Iowa and was expected to fare poorly. He likely got more support from Jewish Republicans than from other Iowa constituencies, as they tend to be more moderate. Bud Hockenberg, a long-time Jewish Republican activist in Iowa, would not discuss which Republican candidate was most favored by Jews ahead of the caucuses, noting that just about all of the competitors had backers. He said, though, that Jewish voters were looking for candidates who were staunch supporters of Israel, had robust national defense priorities and were committing to fighting Islamic extremism. He estimated Republicans at about 30 percent of the Iowa Jewish community, consistent with the number nationally. Hockenberg said that he personally would be strongly supporting whoever won the Republican nomination.