In primaries, the Jewish money is spread around, and its a good thing

washington | Will Jewish Democrats line up behind Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), now that the veteran lawmaker’s campaign for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination has been resurrected by this week’s blowout victory in the Iowa caucuses?

Perhaps, but Kerry would be wise not to start sending out the thank-you letters. By all accounts, Jews are doing what they usually do in primary battles: covering most of the mainstream political bases, and in the process making sure the community is well represented in every campaign.

That’s not a cynical campaign ploy; it reflects a diverse, in-flux community. But it also points to a strategic concept promoted by pro-Israel forces for years — one that has been a big political plus for the tiny Jewish minority.

In recent weeks, each of the major Democratic contenders has been advertising his Jewish support.

Kerry, whose margin of victory in Iowa surprised even his supporters, is getting advice from political consultant Mark Mellmann, a top name in Jewish political circles; in the week before the Iowa vote, there were reports he was picking up substantial Jewish support.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, whose frontrunner status hit a classic Iowa chill, may have his problems with hard-line pro-Israel leaders, but his campaign co-chair is Steven Grossman, the former president of AIPAC — the pro-Israel lobby. His fierce attacks on President Bush have been music to the ears of many Jewish liberals, not yet an endangered species, according to last week’s American Jewish Committee poll.

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, moving up in the polls in New Hampshire, is getting more and more Jewish campaign money; Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), who dropped out after his drubbing in Iowa, has a number of loyal, longstanding Jewish backers. Jewish politicos say Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), while less known to the Jewish community, has a small base of support.

That reflects a community that has diverse interests and an endless variety of views on key issues, even within the Democratic fold. But it also reflects an unwritten law in Jewish politics: it’s important to have candidates in every camp, or at least that of every mainstream candidate.

The modest Jewish vote in Iowa was in play until the day of the caucuses; by most accounts it is still in flux in New Hampshire, where early this week observers reported that there was no clear Jewish frontrunner.

Trend spotters are having a hard time pointing to a Jewish favorite, but that’s exactly the point. Dean, Kerry and Clark all have cadres of passionate Jewish supporters, but there are many other Jews who are just as passionate about waiting until the political trends are clear before endorsing a candidate.

The Jewish Democratic vote may be murky today, but it probably won’t be on Nov. 2, when — according to last week’s AJC poll — any of the major Democratic candidates can expect to beat President Bush by a 2-1 ratio.

That’s not as good a Democratic total as in 2000, but with the Sept. 11 attacks, the war on terror and the Bush administration’s close relations with the current Israeli government, nobody expected Bush to repeat his miserable 19 percent performance with Jewish voters.