Hillary has Jews in her family, but will it affect her campaign

WASHINGTON — "OY VEY!" the New York Post blared across its front page in 3-inch letters last week.

"Hillary's ALMOST Jewish."

An accompanying column carried the headline, "The First Shiksa wants to be a yenta? Oy!"

New York's supercharged Senate campaign took a distinctly Jewish turn last week when the Forward, a weekly Jewish newspaper, reported that Clinton has some Jews on her family tree. Her step-grandfather was Jewish and her mother's half-sister converted.

The Forward called Clinton's grandmother, Della Rosenberg, "the feisty wife of a Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrant" and predicted that the revelation would boost her Senate chances.

But even if Clinton were Jewish, her background would not influence Jewish voters, according to pollsters, analysts and politicians.

"Ethnicity has very little to do with how Jews vote," said John Zogby, president of Zogby International, a New York-based polling firm that has conducted many surveys of Jewish voters.

"Basically those who really viscerally dislike Hillary will add another notch in the column and ask, 'What's she trying to do?'" Zogby said.

And those who support her will ignore the issue, he said.

To be sure, Clinton has made courting Jewish voters a central focus of her campaign. One out of every eight voters in New York is Jewish, making them a key constituency in her campaign.

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch tried to put the revelation into perspective.

"I think it's much ado about nothing," he said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" news show.

"I'm a proud member of the Jewish faith, and it would be wonderful if Hillary were Jewish. But she's not," Koch said.

According to the Forward, Clinton's maternal grandmother, Della Murray, divorced her husband in 1927 and remarried Max Rosenberg in 1933. Together they had a daughter, Adeline.

Like many activists from both parties, Koch said it "means nothing" that Clinton has Jewish relatives.

"Jews don't vote, normally, on the basis of ethnicity," Koch said.

While the impact of the story is not fully known, pollsters are watching the Jewish vote carefully. Zogby predicts that the winner of the Jewish vote will win the election.

A compilation of Zogby polls over the last eight months released this week shows New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani leading Clinton, 43.9 percent to 41.8 percent, among Jewish voters.

The sample of 678 Jewish voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent, has 14.3 percent undecided. Among all voters, Giuliani leads Clinton by 46.9 to 41.7 percent, Zogby said.

"Hillary is not doing as well among Jewish voters as a Democrat normally would do," Zogby said.

At the same time, Giuliani does better among Jewish voters than a Republican normally would, he said.

In 1996, Republican Party leaders supported the Senate bid of Dick Zimmer, a New Jersey Republican, in part because he is Jewish. But when the votes were counted, his opponent, Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), received almost 80 percent of the Jewish vote, according to exit polls conducted by Zogby for the New Jersey Jewish News. New Jersey's other senator, Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat who is Jewish, received less Jewish support than Torricelli did in his last election, polls showed.

In other recent races, Rep. Jon Fox, a Jewish Republican from suburban Philadelphia, received an estimated 25 percent of the Jewish vote in his losing 1998 battle for re-election against Rep. Joe Hoeffel (D-Pa.). And in New York, some 70 percent of Jewish voters supported Giuliani in his race against Ruth Messinger, a Jewish Democrat.

"Because someone married someone Jewish three decades ago is not particularly relevant," said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. He added that the revelation is simply "a humorous one-day anecdotal story."