With the presidential race coming down to a handful of swing states, there’s rising anxiety among John Kerry’s advisers that their campaign lacks traction among a core Democratic constituency: Jews. Polls show Kerry with 75 percent of the national Jewish vote, but that’s down from Gore’s 79 percent in 2000, and large Jewish populations in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan mean even a minuscule slide in support could spell defeat.
“There’s considerable concern,” says Representative Jerrold Nadler. “There’s clearly going to be more Jewish support for Bush than last time.” “This comes up in almost every conference call,” adds another prominent Democrat.
So the Kerry camp is turning for help to—where else?—New York. Advisers say they will soon launch a major initiative to woo Jewish voters, dispatching dozens of Jewish figures, many from New York, to swing states. Among them: Senator Charles Schumer; representatives Nadler, Gary Ackerman, and Nita Lowey; Alan Dershowitz; and Richard Holbrooke.
“People in places like Boca Raton and Palm Beach generally trust me,” says Dershowitz, author of The Case for Israel. “I’ll tell them I’m very comfortable with Kerry’s views on Israel.” The campaign is being coordinated by Kerry adviser Jay Footlik and brother Cameron Kerry, who converted to Judaism in 1983.
Although Kerry supporters admit the president’s tough pro-Israel rhetoric has allowed him inroads, they point to their candidate’s support for Ariel Sharon’s security fence and plans to withdraw from Gaza.
Some Kerry advisers want to advance the argument that Kerry would be better on Israel than Bush, because he wouldn’t isolate the U.S., Israel’s No. 1 ally. But prominent New York backers are pushing another approach. “My advice has been to use the strategy I used against Al D’Amato in 1998,” says Schumer. “Concede that Bush is good on Israel, and say, ‘You can get someone just as good on Israel, but someone you agree with on other issues.’ And I think we’re beginning to implement that.”