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.


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.


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


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.”


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


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.


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.


'Independent' Lieberman on the Synagogue Tour for McCain

By Brett Lieberman

Campaigning as a “Democrat who was re-elected as independent now here to support a Republican for president,” U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman told Jewish voters in southeastern Pennsylvania that he remains convinced that Republican John McCain is the best candidate to lead the country even as the focus of the election has shifted from national security to financial security.

“All days but particularly now country matters more than party, that’s the bottom line,” Lieberman told about 50 Jewish voters at Temple Beth Hillel in Wynnewood Friday morning.

He later spoke to about 70 retirees at B’rith Shalom House in Philadelphia and then about 120 mostly politically conservative Jews at Congregation Shaare Shamayim.

While mostly receptive audiences, the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee faced skeptical and sometimes outwardly hostile questioning about McCain’s selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Lieberman responded that the election is about deciding whether Barack Obama or McCain will be president. Based on his own interactions with Palin and others he’s spoken with, Lieberman described her as a pragmatic and realistic leader who understands everybody does not share all of her ideological views. Lieberman, for one, said he disagrees with many of her social views.


McCain, Obama Allies Hope to Reassure Jewish Buckeyes

By Brett Lieberman

Ohio’s Jewish community is getting lots of love from presidential surrogates this Columbus Day weekend.

U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the independent Connecticut Democrat and 2000 vice presidential nominee, is meeting with Jewish communal leaders over breakfast this morning outside of Cleveland to emphasize his belief that Republican John McCain is the bettered prepared candidate to be president.

Lieberman addressed about 200 McCain volunteers at a campaign call center northeast of Cleveland on Sunday.

Not far away at the Landerhaven banquet hall, which Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher called the epicenter of Ohio Jewish politics and at least for a short while the presidential campaign, former Middle East peace negotiator Dennis Ross was joined by Sen. Carl Levin, Rep. Jane Harman and Alan Solow, a prominent member of Chicago’s Jewish community, to reassure Jewish voters that Democrat Barack Obama is a strong friend of Israel and the Jewish community.

While Ross, Levin and Harman emphasized Obama’s commitment and understanding of the importance of Israel and nominating good candidates to the Supreme Court, it was Solow, chairman of Jewish Community Centers Association of North America but the least known of the group, who offered the best line of the night: “I like to say he’s going to be the first Jewish president of the United States.”

Solow, who met Obama in 2003 and traveled with the Illinois senator to Israel in 2006, said that Obama “gets (Israel) in his bones. He has it in his kishkes,” he said, using the Yiddish word for guts.


Top Obama Aides Dispached to Florida, Ohio

By Brett Lieberman

With three weeks to go until Election Day, Barack Obama’s campaign seems to be betting the kibbutz on three states: Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“Those three are the three swing states with the largest Jewish population that really has the most likely chance of affecting the outcome,” Dan Shapiro, Obama’s national Jewish outreach coordinator told the Forward Sunday night.

Public polls show the contest is close in Ohio and Florida, but Obama with a wide lead in Pennsylvania, though campaign aides and political insiders believe the Pennsylvania race is narrower.

With three weeks until Election Day, Barack Obama’s top Jewish outreach coordinators are taking up residence in Ohio and Florida, while the campaign has added staff to its Jewish outreach efforts in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

“I’m spending two of the next three weeks in Ohio as an indicator of how we’re deploying our resources,” Shapiro said before a rally near Cleveland at the Landerhaven banquet hall headlined by Dennis Ross, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, U.S. Rep. Jane Harman of California and Alan Solow, a Chicago Jewish leader and a longtime Obama friend.

While Shapiro will be based in Ohio, but will continue to travel to Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Chicago and Washington, D.C., Eric Lynn, Obama’s national Jewish vote director will be in Florida, where another staffer was also recently added.

Democrats also have a dedicated state staffer in Ohio for Jewish outreach and several people devoting significant time around Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati.

Shapiro allowed that the the Jewish vote could still play a critical role in Nevada or Colorado, two other battlegrounds Democrats hope to win.


Obama Spokeman Takes Sean Hannity to Task for Anti-Semitic Guest

By Brett Lieberman

After the debate between Barack Obama and John McCain, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs and Fox’s Sean Hannity played the guilt by association game.

Gibbs asked the Fox host whether he was anti-Semitic for having Andy Martin on his show.


RNC Criticizes Obama Grant to Rabbi/Relative

By Brett Lieberman

The latest Republican attack line on Barack Obama involves a rabbi.

The Republican National Committee is circulating a news release this morning calling the Democratic presidential nominee to task for awarding $75,000 in grants to a social service agency lead by his wife’s cousin, Rabbi Capers Funnye.

The grants - $50,000 for adult literacy and counseling services and $25,000 for youth services – went to a group called Blue Gargoyle in 1999 and 2000, when Obama was an Illinois state senator, the Associated Press reports.

Funnye, Michelle Obama’s first cousin once removed, denied Obama or the group acted improperly in securing the grants.

“State Sen. Obama joined other legislators in securing funding for a well-established social services agency in his district that provided job training, employment counseling, and alternative education programs to approximately 1,200 Chicago residents each year,” campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt told AP.

But under the headline, “Obama’s Friends & Family Plan,” the RNC asked, “Why Does Barack Obama Decry The Politics Of Special Interest, But Show No Shame In Doing Favors For Friends & Family?”


Jewish Mom Hopes to Set the Record Straight on Obama Rumors

By Brett Lieberman

There’s Jews for Obama, Rabbis for Obama, and now in the seemingly never-ending quest to address every possible demographic, there’s Jewish Moms for Obama. More specifically, it’s an Orthodox Jewish mom, who lived in Israel during the Second Intifada and the start of the Iraq War and now lives in Cambridge, Mass. with her husband and two kids.

Janette Hillis-Jaffe is the driving force behind the new http://www.JewsObamaIsrael.com Web site and video designed to make other Jews feel more comfortable about the Democratic presidential candidate.

Hillis-Jaffe, who says she was offended by the Swift Boating of Sen. John Kerry in 2004, wanted to do something to sway undecided voters, and conservative voters in particular. After researching Obama’s position on Israel and many of the rumors about his religion, Hillis-Jaffe wanted to set the record straight.

“I’m in a position that I may help people feel more comfortable with him,” she told the Forward.

In the video, Hillis-Jaffe talks directly to the camera while in a playground. She tells her own story of being on the frontlines of the war on terror.

“Two buses and two cafes were blown up within minutes of our home,” she says in the video.

If people don’t feel familiar or comfortable with Obama, who looks more trustworthy that “a nice Jewish mother with two kids?” she asks.

She says she wants “real peace and real security for Israel.”

Hillis-Jaffe wrote the script herself, but it was a collaborative effort. A professional documentary maker filmed and edited the 2-minute 29-second segment. A Web marketing expert helped do the promotional materials and Web site. And a journalist helped with a news release.


Did Obama Backers Distort Israelis' Comments?

By Brett Lieberman

Several former Israeli Defense Forces and Mossad officials are saying that the pro-Obama group Jewish Council for Education & Research used their comments out of context and made the Israeli officials sound as though they were endorsing or supporting the Democratic presidential candidate.

“It’s not only misleading, it was an interview about what the next president was going to have to deal with,” former deputy chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Uzi Dayan tells The Jerusalem Post.

Dayan and other Israelis were included on a recent JCRC video “Israeli General’s Speak.”

JCER is the group behind pro-Barack Obama sites [JewsVote.org[(http://jewsvote.org/) and The Great Schlep.


Obama Warns Against Bigotry After Austrian Election Results

By Brett Lieberman

Weighing in on the recent elections in Austria, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama called for tolerance.

Obama’s campaign released this statement on Sunday:

“I am very concerned about last Sunday’s election results in Austria, in which two openly xenophobic far-right parties won nearly thirty percent of the vote. Extremism, bigotry, and anti-Semitism offend our most deeply held transatlantic values and have no place in the 21st century.’

“As Austria’s voters and leaders review the election results and consider the way forward, I urge people of good will and courage in Austria to stand firmly for the principles of pluralism and tolerance that have, for the past 60 years, served Austria and Western Europe so well. Failure to do so would have serious consequences in Europe and beyond.”


States to Watch: PA, FL, OH, VA, CO

By Brett Lieberman

Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida – all key traditional presidential battlegrounds and all traditional battlegrounds for the Jewish vote will likely be critical once again in this year’s contest between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.

Two other states to watch though will be Virginia, where 1.3 percent of the population is Jewish, and Colorado, where 1.7 percent of the population is Jewish, Matt Berger of MSNBC/National Journal predicted on a conference call organized by the United Jewish Communities to discuss the election.

Critical to the election will be what Berger called the “Lieberman Democrats,” those voters like Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, who place a premium on security issues. They may be wary of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s lack of experience, he said.

Younger Jewish voters, who are trending conservative in their votes and more open to supporting Republicans, are another critical demographic.

Finally, “Schlepers,” the elderly vote in Florida will be critical as usual in that state, Berger said. Many of these traditionally Democratic voters supported President Bush in 2004 and are looking for a reason to vote for Obama. Yet they remain hesitant to support him.

“They want a reason to vote Democratic and they are wary about Obama,” Berger said. “They need to be convinced that it is OK to vote Obama.” Jewish Democratic leaders have predicted that Obama will do as well or better than 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry did. But Berger was skeptical that Obama will draw the 75 percent of Jewish support that exit polls showed voted for Kerry.


Obama Still Struggling With Jewish Voters

By Brett Lieberman

Democrat Barack Obama enjoys a nearly 2-1 advantage among Jewish voters over Republican John McCain, yet his support continues to lag well-behind historical levels that Democrats have enjoyed from the Jewish community, according to a new survey of Jewish voters.

The American Jewish Committee’s 2008 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion shows Obama leading McCain 57 percent to 30 percent. Another 13 percent of the 914 self-identifying Jewish respondents surveyed said they were undecided. Exit polls showed that John Kerry received 76 percent of the Jewish vote in 2004.

The poll is the latest evidence that Obama continues to struggle winning over Jewish voters despite the optimism expressed by campaign aides and members of the National Jewish Democratic Council at the organization’s Washington conference this week.

The telephone survey by Synovate was conducted by Sept. 8-21. It has a 3 percent margin of error.

Nearly three quarters of those surveyed approved of Obama’s selection of Delaware Senator Joseph Biden as his running mate. Fifty-four percent of respondents disapproved of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain’s choice for vice president.

Democrats have viewed the Palin selection as good news because they say many Jewish voters are turned off by her lack of foreign policy credentials and lack of prior statements about Israel.

More than half of those surveyed – 54 percent – said they want to hear the candidates talk more about the economy. Only 3 percent cites Israel as the issue they want to hear discussed more.

By overwhelming margins, respondents predicted Democrats would do a better job addressing terrorism, strengthening the economy, supporting Israel, working towards energy independence, and the Iraq war.


Obama Wants Observant Jews to Watch Friday Night Debate -- On Saturday Night

By Brett Lieberman

Friday night’s first presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain is still on. But it comes after sunset, posing a problem for observant Jews, who won’t be able to watch it.

Obama wants the television networks to re-air the debate, which will focus on foreign policy issues, on Saturday night.

He sent the following letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates:

The Honorable Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr. The Honorable Paul G. Kirk, Jr. Commission on Presidential Debates 1200 New Hampshire Ave NW Washington, DC 20036

Dear Mr. Fahrenkopf and Mr. Kirk:

Joe Biden and I are looking forward to participating in the upcoming debates, and I appreciate the hard work you and your team have put forth to bring them about. They promise to be some of the best opportunities for the voters to assess the candidates and their views prior to Election Day.

I want to raise one issue, and ask for your assistance. Due to the schedule set by the Commission and presented to the campaigns, the first debate falls on Friday night after the Jewish Sabbath has begun. Unfortunately, that means many Jewish Americans will not have the opportunity to watch the debate live. Because I know there is strong interest in this debate in the Jewish community, and to be as inclusive as possible, I ask for the Commission’s help in encouraging the television networks covering the debate to rebroadcast it on Saturday night after the Sabbath has concluded.



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