US Senator John McCain a favorite of Iowa Jews

Republican Jews happy over his alliance with Joe Lieberman and relative avoidance of "talking faith."

Joe Lieberman 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Joe Lieberman 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When Arizona Senator John McCain took the stage the night before the first-in-the-nation caucuses to be held here Thursday night, he thanked several fellow senators who had joined him on stage to show their support. But then 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 senator and Orthodox Jew who campaigned in 2000 as the Democratic vice presidential nominee, 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 statistically small but politically active Republican Jewish constituency has been pleased by McCain's relationship with Lieberman, among other 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 in explaining Jewish support for McCain, 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 local Des Moines Register. He came in fourth with 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 number two winner 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 first primary vote on Tuesday. McCain needed support from groups such as Jews, who are more open to entertaining alternatives to Huckabee and Romney. Both 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, who used to be a Baptist preacher, 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 the issue of the separation of church and state as "the number one" issue for the Jewish community, explaining, "A society that's [focused on] religiosity tends to overlook minorities, and we're a minority." McCain also said he supported the notion that America is a "Christian nation" in an interview that raised Jewish ire, but has made religion less a focus of the campaign, and has in the past inflamed the evangelical community so supportive of Huckabee by calling some of their leaders "agents of intolerance" and other slights. Giuliani, a Catholic, has been the least focused of the top tier candidates on religion, but he opted not to campaign in Iowa and is expected to fare poorly. He is likely to get more support from Jewish Republicans than other Iowa constituencies, however, 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 are staunch supporters of Israel, had robust national defense priorities and were committing to fighting Islamic extremism. He estimated Jewish Republicans at about 30% of the Iowa Jewish community, consistent with the number nationally. Hockenberg said that he personally would be strongly supporting whoever won the Republican nomination.