Joe Biden: Good for the (Democratic) Jews?

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

James Besser in Washington

Will Sen. Joe Biden’s selection as Barack Obama’s running mate have much of an impact on the Jewish vote on November 4?

Well, it depends on your perspective.

If you think that the continuing resistance to Obama’s candidacy among a segment of Jewish voters is based on his relative lack of experience in foreign policy, then the Biden nomination might help somewhat – although studies show that despite the quadrennial hoopla, vice presidential nominees rarely decide elections.

As chair of the Foreign Relations Committee and a veteran legislator who has made foreign policy a specialty, Biden is well known to the pro-Israel community and could be a reassuring presence to Jewish voters who fear a sharp change in U.S. Mideast policy.

AIPAC lobbyists know him well and generally get along with him; although Biden has sometimes seemed to gravitate toward the more dovish views of the Israel Policy Forum, he’s never been regarded as a problem by major pro-Israel groups.

But if you think the Jewish resistance to Obama has more to do with other factors – including race – then his nomination is unlikely to have a huge impact.

But if you think Obama’s Jewish problem is the result of his stature as a non-traditional Democrat, Biden’s nomination could help with many Jewish voters who are the very epitome of “traditional” Dems.

Biden’s nomination may bring a seasoned foreign policy hand into the campaign, but it doesn’t bring much in terms of political demography; Delaware isn’t exactly a swing state.  Biden is also known for shooting off his mouth, which could be a problem for the highly disciplined Obama campaign.

In a conference call with Jewish reporters two years ago meant to reinforce traditional Jewish ties to the Democrats he brought up his differences with leaders of the Israeli right on peace process issues.

“I have a great relationship with Bibi Netanyahu, he is a close personal friend, but I have great disagreement with his assessment (of) how Israel should proceed,” he said.

That may put him squarely in line with a majority of Jewish voters, but it’s not the kind of talk the Democrats want to hear during this year’s campaign.

In that same conference call he articulated a view on why the Democrats support Israel that could play well with many Jewish voters.

That support is “not based on the Christian Coalition notion that we’re going to be there for the ‘rapture,’ that the reason to support Israel is that there will someday be the Second Coming,” he said, a dig at elements of the religious right that support Israel because of Bible prophecies and the Republicans who court them.

So the short answer to the initial question about whether the Biden nomination will help Obama with his Jewish problem is this: it depends.

We should keep things in perspective here; Obama’s Jewish “problem” consists of polls showing he will get a less overwhelming proportion of Jewish votes than Democratic candidates are accustomed to, but a larger share of the vote than he will get from just about any other group of white voters.

But ever hopeful of a bigger swing in Jewish votes, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) was ready for Saturday’s announcement with a statement blasting Biden for demonstrating “poor judgment on Iran.”

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.