Washington Watch: Which Joe is more in synch with Jewish voters?

Biden's strongly held views on church-state separation make him more appealing to mainstream Jews.

biden contemplative  (photo credit: AP [file])
biden contemplative
(photo credit: AP [file])
Now that Barack Obama has anointed Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate, attention in the veepstakes turns to John McCain, who has promised to reveal his choice on Friday, his 72nd birthday. Speculation has grown that he may choose one of two Jewish lawmakers who have been vetted by hi's aides recently - little-known Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in the House of Representatives, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, arguably the best-known Jewish politician in the country. Whether they are tapped or not, McCain will rely on them to woo Jewish voters, but neither can match the loquacious Irish Catholic Biden on the issues important to the Jewish community. While Lieberman is a favorite on the single issue of Israel, the Delaware Democrat is more in synch with Jewish voters on the broad range of domestic and foreign policy issues. It is debatable how important running mates are - Lyndon Johnson was critical to John F. Kennedy's election in 1960, but dim bulbs like Spiro Agnew and Dan Quayle didn't keep Richard Nixon or George H.W. Bush out of the White House. But after the Dick Cheney experience, Americans should pay a lot more attention to them. ANALYSTS SAY Biden will be especially valuable among older Jews who are skeptical about Obama. Biden is a seasoned foreign policy expert known and respected by pro-Israel leaders. He could make Florida, where he enjoys a good reputation, more competitive for Democrats in a tight race. Biden, like most Jewish voters, opposes the Iraq war (although he initially voted for it) and wants to see a greater emphasis on negotiations to prevent a nuclear Iran, while McCain and Lieberman disdain diplomacy and advocate tougher confrontation. The biggest disagreement between Lieberman and Biden over Israel involves settlements and the peace process. Biden has been highly critical of Israeli settlement policy and has faulted some Israeli leaders whom he felt were dragging their feet on the peace process. He faulted Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush for not doing enough to bolster the new Palestinian leadership after Yasser Arafat died. McCain and Lieberman have taken hard-line positions which please the religious right and Jewish hawks, but they are out of step with the majority of American Jewish voters who support a two-state solution and a more activist American role in the peace process. Biden has a solid 36-year Senate record of pro-Israel leadership. He has called Israel "the single greatest strength America has in the Middle East" and told an interviewer last year, "You don't have to be a Jew to be a Zionist." A BIG part of Lieberman's popularity among Republicans, beyond his staunch support for the Iraq war, has been his enthusiasm for attacking Obama and the Democrats, and it should be on full display Monday when he is scheduled to address the Republican convention in Minneapolis. But will that be enough for them to overlook his shortcomings - in GOP eyes - of being pro-choice, pro-union and pro-affirmative action? And at 66, will he be young enough to assuage concerns about McCain's age? The talkative, shoot-from-the-lip Biden is prone to gaffes, and Lieberman has been criticized, even among friends, for a tendency to be sanctimonious and preachy. Biden's strongly held views on church-state separation make him more appealing to mainstream Jews than Lieberman, who remains popular among fellow Orthodox Jews. Abe Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, called Lieberman out in the 2000 campaign for injecting too much religion into his politics, something that may appeal to the GOP's conservative base but discomfits most Jews. Nowhere was that more apparent than in his staunch defense of Pastor John Hagee, even after McCain returned the evangelical preacher's endorsement upon learning he had said the Holocaust was God's way of getting the Jews to leave Europe and build a homeland in Israel. McCain may have found that unacceptable but not Lieberman, who showed up at a Hagee rally and enthusiastically compared the controversial pastor to Moses. That may help explain why Lieberman's standing among American Jews has been dropping. According to a recent poll by the pro-peace process lobby J Street, Lieberman's unfavorable ratings are up to 48 percent and his positives are down to 37%. The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, reported federal records show Lieberman's attacks on Obama as dangerous for Israel "have had limited impact" where McCain has been counting on him - raising money for the GOP ticket among his own supporters. When Lieberman made a brief run for the presidency four years ago - as a Democrat - he was reportedly surprised and hurt by the paucity of Jewish support. If McCain does tap Lieberman as his running mate, the nachas and kvelling that permeated the Jewish community eight years ago when he ran with Al Gore will be gone. Biden's presence on the Democratic ticket will make it tougher for Republicans to pursue their Jewish strategy: If you can't convince 'em, scare 'em.