Campaign Confidential

Jewish Influence in Capital Soars

By Brett Lieberman

It’s difficult to quantify whether Jews are in line to hold any sort of a record number of top positions in the Obama administration or the next Congress, but it’s clear that a large number of Jews stand to serve in key positions.

Among the latest is U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman.

The California Democrat dethroned Michigan’s John Dingell to chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The panel has jurisdiction over critical areas including potential legislation setting pollution standards, health care and energy policy.

Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia will be the No. 2 Republican leader in the House, where Reps. Robert Wexler and Debbie Wasserman Schultz saw their stocks go up after their campaign efforts on behalf of President-elect Barack Obama in Florida.

In addition to Rahm Emanuel as Obama’s chief of staff, Ron Klain will play the same role for Vice President-elect Joe Biden.

Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod will serve as a senior advisor to the president.

Penny Pritzker, the Hyatt hotel heiress, was supposedly in line to head the Commerce Department, but The Washington Post says she’s unlikely to take the job. Politico quotes unnamed officials saying she took herself out of the running because of concerns that past business dealings would pose confirmation problems.

Pritzker was named one of the top picks on this year’s Forward 50 list.

Another name being thrown around for a possible administration posts include Larry Summers at Treasury.


Ugly Franken, Coleman Fight for Minnesota's 'Jewish Seat' Continues

By Brett Lieberman

A week after the polls closed, there’s no end in sight for the election fight between Norm Coleman and Al Franken for Minnesota’s Jewish Senate seat.

As Politico reports, Coleman’s lead now stands at a meager 206 votes out of more than 2.4 million ballots cast. That’s a difference of 41.99 percent of the vote to 41.98, according to the state’s secretary of state

A mandatory recount is required because the margin is less than 0.5 percent.

The post-election fight has been full of charges of ballot box stuffing, votes seemingly discovered in the middle of the night, and in one case noted by Politico, “an election official from solidly Democratic Hennepin County left 32 absentee ballots in his car, netting Franken an additional 11 votes.”


Bill Clinton, Obama Want Joe Lieberman to Stay With Democrats

By Brett Lieberman

After not only supporting John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, but criticizing the Democratic presidential nominee, U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman is fighting for his job as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. And Democrats must decide whether they want him to caucus with them.

While they have enough votes to remain in the majority regardless of Lieberman, they still need the senator from Connecticut because they’re shy of the 60 votes needed to cut of filibusters.

Lieberman has told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that he does not want to relinquish his chairmanship, which plenty of Democrats want to take away from him as punishment.

Lieberman was re-elected as an Independent after losing the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont, but continued caucusing with Democrats.

Now comes word that Lieberman may have some influential party leaders want Lieberman to keep caucusing with Democrats.

Talking Point Memo’s Josh Marshall reports that former President Bill Clinton is making calls on Lieberman’s behalf, and The Huffington Post reports that President-elect Barack Obama, who Lieberman campaigned against, also wants him to remain in the caucus.


Eric Cantor to Run for House Whip

By Brett Lieberman

Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in the House, is said to be running for House GOP whip position.

Politico reports that Cantor is making calls to line up support from colleagues for the position, which is the second highest Republican leadership


Obama to Name Rahm Emanuel Chief of Staff

By Brett Lieberman

UPDATE 2:15 p.m.

Jews still questioning whether they will have a strong ally in the next White House may have their answer.

In one of his first decisions, President-elect Barack Obama has asked Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel to be White House chief of staff, according to three leaders in the Jewish community and Washington insiders.

Emanuel worked in the Clinton White House.

When Emanuel lived in the Washington, D.C. area, he was a member of Agudas Achim Congregation, a Conservative synagogue in Alexandria, Va.

“Rahm Emanuel and hopefully many other Jewish Americans will have a role in helping to move the country in a new direction,” said a Washington lobbyist.

A formal announcement is expected this afternoon.

UPDATE Emanuel was said to be mulling the offer, which wasn’t part of the career trajectory he planned. But media reports now indicate that he has in fact accepted the position.


Republican Jewish Leader Claims Win in Obama Victory

By Brett Lieberman

UPDATED 8:21 A.M

With exit polls showing that Democrat Barack Obama won an estimated 77 percent of the Jewish vote, you would think that all Republicans would be disappointed.

Yet other than the fact that Obama won, Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, is declaring the election a success.

“The reality is that the Republicans were able to hold onto the gains and inroads that we’ve made in the past several elections,” Brooks told the Forward by phone around 1:30 a.m. from Minnesota, where he was helped U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman’s campaign.

“We stood tall in the face of a major tsunami,” Brooks said.

Read more


Will Jews Have More Voices in Congress?

By Brett Lieberman

MULTIPLE UPDATES

So far it looks like the number of Jews in Congress may grow by one to three seats.

We’ll update these results on Wednesday

In New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, Democrat John Adler has been projected the winner over Republican Chris Myers in a squeeker. With 93 percent of precincts reported, Adler trailed 142,477 votes to 144,218 but was projected the winner.

Update Here’s the report from the Newark Star-Ledger.

Democrat Jared Polis leads Republican Scott Starin 59 percent to 36 percent with 39 percent of precincts in Colorado’s 2nd District reporting.

Nathan Berkowitz trails Republican incumbent Don Young 51.6 percent to 44.1 with 45 percent of precincts reporting for Alaska’s Congressional seat.

Update Young won 51.7 percent to 44 percent, according to unofficial results. The Minnesota Senate contest between Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Al Franken remains close with Coleman narrowly leading 1,138,466 votes to 1,137,254 votes and both candidates at 42 percent with 94 percent of precincts reporting. The outcome may remain in limbo if a close race triggers an automatic recount.

Update The Associated Press is reporting Coleman the winner this morning. The latest numbers are Coleman with 1,210,790 votes to 1,210,028 for Franken.

Another Update AP has now uncalled the race. This one may take a while to sort out.

Franken is not conceding.

His campaign just issued the following statement:

“The Secretary of State’s office reports that all but nine of Minnesota’s 4,130 precincts have reported in. And this race is too close to call, with a margin of just about 1100 votes out of 2.9 million cast. That’s four one-hundredths of one percent of the vote. And we expect that when those final nine precincts are counted this morning, that 1100-vote margin will shrink into the hundreds.”

“Under Minnesota state law, we will now enter into an automatic statewide canvass and recount. It will be the first one since 1962, when I was 11 years old. I remember that year very clearly for two reasons. The recount between Elmer L. Anderson and Karl Rolvaag. And the Gophers were in the Rose Bowl that year.”

“And we have twice as many ballots to count this time.”

“Let me be clear: Our goal is to ensure that every vote is properly counted.”

“The process, dictated by our laws, will be orderly, fair, and will take place within a matter of days. We won’t know for a little while who won this race, but at the end of the day, we will know that the voice of the electorate was clearly heard.”

“There is reason to believe that the recount could change the vote tallies significantly.”

“Our office and the Obama campaign have received reports of irregularities at various precincts around the state. For instance, some polling places in Minneapolis ran out of registration materials. Our team has been working on those issues for several hours already, and they will continue to do so this morning as the recount process begins.”

“Let me be clear: This race is too close to call, and we do not yet know who won. We are lucky enough to live in a state with built-in protections to ensure that in close elections like these, the will of the people is accurately reflected in the outcome.”

“This has been a long campaign, and it’s going to be a little longer before we have a winner. Senator Coleman, Senator Barkley, and I have done a lot of talking. Minnesotans have waited a long time to have THEIR say. And thanks to our state’s laws, we will eventually understand precisely what they have said.”

Keep reading for other Jewish results of interest:

Read more


Palin Questions Obama's Israel Support; Wasserman Schultz Says 'Look Who's Talking'

By Brett Lieberman

Hello pot, the kettle’s on Line 3.

Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who doesn’t exactly have the strongest bona fides when it comes to Israel or any foreign policy, is questioning whether Democrat Barack Obama is really as staunch a supporter of Israel as he contends.

CBS News reports that at a rally in Bowling Green, Ohio, Palin questioned the Democratic presidential nominee’s Israel commitment.

Palin’s remarks came as she raised the issue of a 2003 banquet for Rashid Khalidi, who has been referred to as a former PLO spokesman and has been critical of Israel. Khalidi is now a Columbia University professor.

Today’s New York Times also has a story on the controversy.

Conservative bloggers and more recently John McCain’s campaign have questioned why the Los Angeles Times won’t release a video tape it has of the event.

“And the twist here is that there’s a videotape of a party for this person, back in 2003, a celebration of him, and Barack was there, and we know some very derogatory things were said there about Israel and America’s support for that great nation,” CBS reports Palin said. “And among other things, Israel was described there as the perpetrator of terrorism instead of the victim.”

“What we don’t know is how Barack Obama responded to these slurs on a country that he now professes to support,” she said.

The L.A. Times said it is not releasing the video because of a promise to the source who provided it. But it also notes that this is old news. It reported on the event back in an April 2008 story.

In responding, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., suggested that Palin look in the mirror before throwing out charges.

“Gov. Sarah Palin – who prior to her nomination for Vice President had never spoken publicly about Israel in any major forum – has no standing to question Barack Obama’s unshakable commitment to Israel and its security,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “He has demonstrated this commitment over many years through word, deed, legislation, and votes. Frankly, her attempts to question Barack Obama on Israel are unfounded and pathetic.”


Zimmer Joins GOP Chorus Calling For Ted Stevens Resignation

By Brett Lieberman

The number of fellow Republicans that Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens can count on as friends appears to be diminishing.

Former Congressman Dick Zimmer, the GOP nominee challenging Senator Frank Lautenberg in New Jersey, is among the latest calling for Stevens to resign after his conviction on federal corruption charges.

“A culture of corruption has plagued our government for far too long,” Zimmer said in a statement. “Too many people in power have manipulated the political process to criminally enrich themselves.”

“The worst thing that can happen is for honest elected officials to sit idly by and say nothing. Today, I am calling on Senator Stevens to resign, and I ask that Senator Lautenberg join me in this demand. Perhaps Senator Stevens will heed the advice of someone who has served with him so long on the Senate Appropriations Committee.”

Zimmer, who trails in polls, has campaigned on restoring ethical and fiscal integrity to government. The New Jersey Senate election features two Jewish candidates.


Bloomberg Endorses Blind Rabbi

By Brett Lieberman

Dennis Shulman, the blind psychologist rabbi running for Congress in New Jersey, picked up a high-profile endorsement this morning from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“I’m impressed by his pragmatic, sensible approach to the tough issues, including how we strengthen the economy and how we keep illegal guns out of the hands of criminals,” said Bloomberg said in a statement. “We need more leaders in Congress willing to reach across the aisle and focus on problem solving, not ideology.”

Shulman, a Democrat, is challenging Republican Congressman Scott Garrett in New Jersey’s 5th Congressional District.

Bloomberg blamed ideology for too often blocking progress on critical issues.

You can listen to Bloomberg’s conference call


Blind Rabbi Gets Times Endorsement for Congressional Bid

By Brett Lieberman

The Gray Lady threw it’s support behind Dennis Shulman, the blind rabbi and psychologist challenging incumbent Rep. Scott Garrett in New Jersey’s 5th District.


Pa. Republicans Fire Strategist Over Obama 'Smear' E-Mail

By Brett Lieberman

The Pennsylvania Republican State Party has fired a strategist over an e-mail sent to Jewish voters that warns a vote for Barack Obama would be a “tragic mistake” with parallels to the “ignored warning signs of the 1930s and 1940s.”

The e-mail, which a GOP spokesman says was sent without the party’s authorization, falsely warns that Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee “taught members of Acorn to commit voter registration fraud” during his community organizing days.

The e-mail was signed by several prominent Pennsylvania Republicans who are supporting GOP presidential nominee John McCain. They were Sandra Schultz Newman, a former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice; developer Mitchell L. Morgan, a top fund-raiser from the Philadelphia area for McCain as well as other Republicans including President Bush and former U.S. Sen Rick Santorum; and I. Michael Coslow, a steel industry exec.

A spokesman for the state party, Michael Barley, tells the New York Times, that state party leaders repudiated the message sent Friday and that Bryan Rudnick, the strategist who helped draft it, had been fired.

“There were some points that were accurate, there were two that we cannot substantiate, however; as a result of them we’ve let him go,” Michael Barley told The Times.

“There are points that could have been made and he touched on some of them, but he definitely went a little bit farther than the facts would support,” he said.

Democrats blasted what one Jewish Democrat calls a “blatantly false and incendiary e-mail” that was “just one more vicious smear.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa., and state Rep. Josh Shapiro, both of whom are leading Obama surrogates held a conference call with reporters Saturday afternoon to respond to the e-mail.

Keep reading for the full, unedited, text of the e-mail that was provided to the Forward:

Read more


Inquirer Endorses Zimmer Over Lautenberg in N.J.

By Brett Lieberman

U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg has built “a solid reputation delivering federal funds to New Jersey for mass transit, beach replenishment and road projects” over four decades in the Senate, but the Philadelphia Inquirer calls former Congressman Dick Zimmer “a viable alternative.”

The Inky threw its support and endorsement in the New Jersey Senate election behind Zimmer, who the paper notes has a reputation as a fiscal conservative, who bucks his party and would fight earmarks, but also has a reputation being being a moderate.

The most recent polls show Lautenberg with a 13 to 22 point advantage.

The New Jersey race is one of two this year that features two Jewish candidates. The other is the close fight in Minnesota between incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken.


Jewish Challengers Seen Gaining in House Races

New ratings from the Cook Political Report reflect improved chances for a couple of Jewish challengers in tough congressional races.

The non-partisan group changed the contest between incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Rogers and Democrat Josh Segall in Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District to likely Republican from solid Republican.

Likewise, Florida’s 18th Congressional District seat held by incumbent Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has been downgraded from solid Republican to likely Republican. One recent poll showed Jewish Latina businesswoman Annette Taddeo trailing by 7 percent.

Neither incumbent Republican Rep. Mark Kirk or Democratic challenger Dan Seals is Jewish, but Illinois’ 10th Congressional District has garnered attention because of its large Jewish population. That race is now rated a toss up.


National, Fla. Polls Show Obama Gaining Support Among Jewish Voters

By Brett Lieberman

It’s a little early for Barack Obama’s campaign to breath a sigh of relief and say a few Amens, but two new polls of Jewish voters offer some good news for the Democratic presidential nominee.

An analysis by Gallup based on its daily tracking poll and interviews with more than 500 Jewish voters shows that Jewish voters have grown much more comfortable with Obama.

It found that 74 percent of Jewish voters now support Obama. That’s a tad lower than what exit polls showed John Kerry and Al Gore won in 2004 and 2000, but it’s shows huge gains for Obama in the last few months.

A Quinnipiac University poll of 1,433 Florida voters shows Obama leading Republican John McCain by a 77 percent to 20 percent margin among Jewish voters included in a survey.

One note of caution in the Q-Poll numbers – the Jewish sample survey carries a whopping 10.5 percent margin of error because of the small sample of Jews in the larger survey, which had a 2.6 percent margin of error. Given their methodology, Quinnipiac pollsters, however, believe the number is probably pretty close to accurate despite the large potential margin of error.

Jewish support for Obama has risen gradually from the low 60 percent range in June and July to 66 percent in August, 69 percent in September, and now 74 percent, according to Gallup.

With just under two weeks until the Nov. 4 election, “The current proportion of U.S. Jews backing Obama is identical to the level of support the Democratic ticket of John Kerry and John Edwards received in the 2004 presidential election (74%),” and “It is only slightly lower than what Al Gore and Joe Lieberman received in 2000 (80%) – when the first Jewish American appeared on the presidential ticket of a major party,” according to Gallup.

And while there has been much concern about a generational divide and the potential of bigotry that could keep some older Jews from supporting Obama, or cause them to vote for Republican John McCain, Gallup reports that “support for Obama is a bit higher among older Jews than among Jews younger than 55.”


Middle East Envoy Suffers Envy

Dennis Ross, the former Middle East envoy, has been spending a lot of time on the road and in synagogues these days.

Since joining joining Barack Obama on a Middle East trip and then publicly coming out in support of the Democratic presidential nominee, Ross has been on a tour of the Jewish community in battleground states.

On Sunday, he stumped for the Democratic nominee in Tampa and then Parkland, Florida.

While imparting the reasons he’s supporting Obama, Ross, looking around at Congregation Kol Tikvah’s new shul in Parkland, Broward County, noted how he’s also gleaned some valuable insights of his own.

“I have shul building envy,” Ross told about 75 people seated in the building that opened earlier this year.

Ross explained that he’s co-chair of the capital campaign at Kol Shalom, a seven-year-old Conservative egalitarian congregation in Maryland that is raising money to construct a synagogue.

His timing couldn’t be worse to be chair of a campaign hitting up donors, Ross said in a reference to the global financial meltdown.


Rabbis Get the Call From McCain

By Brett Lieberman

Republican presidential nominee John McCain plans to host a conference call with Jewish leaders across the country Sunday morning.

The so-called tele-town hall meeting with Jewish leaders, McCain’s second such call since August, will include the participation of U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman. The independent Democrat who has been campaigning for the Republican ticket in battleground states, will introduce McCain, a longtime friend.

Issues important to the Jewish community such as Israel and national security are expected to be discussed as well as the economy. Participants are expected to be able to ask questions.

The 10:30 a.m. call is expected to include representatives from groups like Chabad-Lubavitch, Agudath Israel, Orthodox Union, Young Israel, in addition to Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis, according to McCain’s campaign.

Jewish leaders representing groups under the umbrella of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations will also participate.

The call will allow Senator McCain to have a dialogue with Jewish leaders and discuss issues critical to the Jewish community such as Israel, national security and the economy. In traditional town-hall fashion, there will be a question-and-answer session with Senator McCain.

McCain held a similar call with Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis from 47 states in late August.


A Debate Detente Between Jewish Republicans and Democrats?

By Brett Lieberman

Representatives of the Republican Jewish Coalition and National Jewish Democratic Council usually spend much of their time trading charges, accusing each other of smears and other assorted provocations.

So it was perhaps a little surprising, to say the least, to see the partisan groups come together for tonight’s final presidential debate between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain at Hoftsra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

The cause of this detente, which we understand to be completely temporary, is a debate watch party at Washington Hebrew Congregation jointly sponsored by RJC and NJDC.

The behind the scenes story, we’re told, is far less noble than bipartisan accord and world peace. Rather, it boils down to the synagogue tax status and the desire for such an event to be non-partisan.

Oh, well. For those interested $10 will get you two beers, unlimited sodas, snacks and one can only assume some awkward moments.

Democrats can get more information here. Republicans can get more information here.


Democrats Upgrade Blind Rabbi, Alabama Congressional Races

By Brett Lieberman

Updated

Buoyed by their cash advantage, national polling favoring Democratic candidates as well as local issues, congressional Democrats have upgraded several races including those of a blind rabbi in New Jersey and a 29-year-old Jewish lawyer in Alabama.

Dennis Shulman, a psychologist-turned-rabbi-turned-candidate, and Josh Segall, the founder of “Homegrown Alabama,” which encourages schools to purchase food from local farmers, are among eight candidates added to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red to Blue” program.

Red to Blue races represent the districts held by Republicans that the DCCC believes may be winnable.

The designation often means that the DCCC will invest its own cash in the races. But it can also a signal to outside groups and donors which races are considered priorities to put their money.

Shulman is challenging U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., and Segall is challenging U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers.

“Our grassroots campaign for change has been growing so rapidly in Northern New Jersey, and we welcome the additional support,” Shulman said in a statement.

Segall, in a statement, said he was “proud to have such strong national support…(that) will help us continue to get our message out.”

““With less than 21 days” to make their case to voters, DCCC Chairman Chris Vam Hollen of Maryland said the Red to Blue support will provide the challengers “the financial and structural edge to be even more competitive in November.”

We’ll update this post with reaction from Segall as well.


Hillary Clinton at the Philly JCC

By Brett Lieberman

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton joins U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz for a “conversation about the future of our nation” this morning at the Jewish Community Center – Klein Branch in Philadelphia.


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