LOS ANGELES — Now that the euphoria is settling down over Vice
President Al Gore’s pick of Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman as his
running mate, political analysts here at this week’s Democratic National
Convention are still determining what he brings to the ticket and how it
affects the election.
Gore deserves great credit for choosing a Jewish American as his
running mate. It gave his lagging campaign a much needed shot in the arm
and the afterglow of his pick brought the race back briefly to single
digits among registered voters, according to CNN/Gallup figures. But by
Sunday, a CNN/Time poll had Bush’s lead among likely voters back up to
14 points; all polls included Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader.
Once the cheering died down over Gore’s “historic” pick, analysts
brought out their political calculators. Jewish voters, as one wag once
said, “live like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.” In 1992 and
1996, Democrats received well over 80 percent of the Jewish vote. The
recent Republican high water mark was in 1984 when Ronald Reagan
attracted 30 percent of the Jewish vote in his landslide win over Walter
So, these analysts say, Sen. Lieberman can help Gore in the
Northeast, particularly the pivotal states of Pennsylvania and New
Jersey. An especially strong Jewish voter turnout (which is even more
likely now) in Florida and Illinois could make the difference between
victory and defeat if those states have close races. But outside of
Florida, and perhaps Tennessee, the Connecticut senator will do little
to help Gore in the South. The Midwest is much the same. Illinois is
currently close and a big Jewish voter turnout could put the critical
state in the Gore column, but analysts don’t think Lieberman can help
much beyond that.
Interestingly, while independent voters approved of Gore’s selection
of Lieberman, it hasn’t helped the Tennessean nail down his own party’s
While Republican nominee George W. Bush leads the vice president
among Republicans by 89 points in the latest Gallup poll taken after
Lieberman’s selection, Gore leads Bush among Democrats by only 70
points. Astounding as it sounds, increasing his lead among Democrats is
one thing the vice president is going to have to do here in Los Angeles
if he’s going to win in the fall.
Why hasn’t that lead increased? Two things, one predictable and one
more ominous. First, Lieberman’s centrist balancing act and his
leadership of the moderate Democratic Leadership Council has not turned
on the party’s natural leftist activist base. Robert Borosage, writing
in the Washington Post this week on behalf of those activists, said,
“Democratic activists are dismayed by the DLC takeover.” He adds that
Sen. Lieberman’s support of measures close to Bush on Social Security,
Medicare and school choice (no matter what Sen. Lieberman says or writes
now), blurs the distinction on issues that Gore must draw in order to
engage the party’s liberal legions.
If the liberal activists aren’t happy publicly, the party’s most
loyal supporters, African-Americans, are holding a critical dialogue
below the political radar screen on the impact of Sen. Lieberman’s
nomination. Most noticeably, the president of the Dallas chapter of the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Lee
Alcorn, resigned following a suspension from the group after telling
radio station KHVN that blacks should be concerned about Sen.
According to AP, he said, “I think we need to be very suspicious of
any kind of partnerships between the Jews at that kind of level because
we know their interest primarily has to do with money and these kind of
things.” Alcorn said his remarks were taken out of context and that he
was really expressing more of an anti-Lieberman stance than an
anti-Jewish one, but the damage had already been done.
Both NAACP President Kweisi Mfume and the Rev. Jesse Jackson promptly
and forcefully denounced the remarks but they shouldn’t have been
surprised. Recent polls suggest that a significant minority of the
African-American community holds a sense of distrust towards Jews. The
Washington Times last week cited a 1999 poll from the black think tank
in Washington, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies,
which showed nearly twice as many African-Americans as whites (37-19
percent) thought Jews had “too much influence.” A 1992 survey from the
Anti-Defamation League quoted in Dinesh D’Souza’s “The End of Racism”
said 37 percent of blacks “espoused anti-Semitic views” while only 17
percent of whites did.
And just this Friday, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who
once denounced Judaism as a “gutter religion,” questioned Sen.
Lieberman’s loyalty to the United States, wondering if his religion
would make him more faithful to Israel instead of Washington in Middle
East peace negotiations. Farrakhan again denied he was anti-Semitic and
called for a dialogue with Jews.
But issuing statements like these is hardly going to get him one as
Jews interpret it as the rhetorical equivalent of waving a red flag in
front of a bull.
In addition, African-Americans may feel slighted politically that no
black was even considered for the vice presidency despite supporting the
party in percentages similar to Jews. There are also significant policy
differences on social issues between Sen. Lieberman and the
African-American constituency being expressed by reporter Cedric
Blackelectorate.com and by Black Entertainment Television political columnist, Joe Davidson. If, as Muhammad suggested to writer Armstrong Williams, 5 to 10 percent of black voters stay home because of Sen. Lieberman’s addition to the ticket, that could throw the election to Bush.
Vice President Gore and Sen. Lieberman have their work cut out here this week. The feeling in Los Angeles is that the race is still winnable but there isn’t a great deal of time remaining to turn the numbers around. If the Democrats don’t get a significant bounce after their convention, and Bush still leads by Labor Day, it’s going to be a tough road ahead for the ticket. If they end up losing, look for an all-out assault from the Democrats’ liberal factions to take back the party in 2004.
Neal Lavon covers politics and other issues for the Voice of America in Washington. The views he expresses are his own.