As prominent supporters of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) were preparing for the likelihood of a protracted ground war in Pennsylvania, a solid number of them took some time out this week to gather in the name of a common cause: strengthening the Democratic Party's chances of retaking the White House come November.
To that end, a virtual "who's who" of area Democratic lawmakers, fundraisers and strategists — roughly 75 in all — gathered for a Feb. 19 Center City fundraiser for the National Jewish Democratic Council, which essentially strives to deflect Republican attempts to make inroads among Jewish voters.
Featured guests included U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-District 13), who's both the lone woman and only Jew representing the state in Washington.
Both Casey and Schwartz have received the NJDC's John F. Kennedy Leadership Award, an honor it bestows infrequently.
As guests hobnobbed before the start of the program, a number of Obama and Clinton partisans asserted that the protracted and extraordinarily competitive primary season was not really proving divisive for party activists.
"The key will be, how will we all come together after this is over? Our goal is to defeat John McCain, not to defeat one another," remarked State Sen. John Adler (D-N.J.), an Obama supporter who's running for Congress in the state's third district, currently occupied by retiring lawmaker U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton (R-N.J.).
Preparing for the Big Goal
Since the NJDC doesn't play an active role in primaries, the group is raising funds and preparing for the general election season, when the Republican Jewish Coalition is sure to wage a major effort aimed at wooing Jewish voters in key states. In fact, the RJC — a far larger and better-funded group than the NJDC — just last week began a major advertising campaign.
The NJDC, which has not held many events in Philadelphia in recent years, did not release fundraising totals for the program.
During the afternoon event, longtime NJDC executive director Ira Forman explained that he would love to count Pennsylvania as firmly in the Democratic camp, and not have to expend precious resources on pitching Jewish voters here.
But he acknowledged that, most likely, Pennsylvania will once again be a competitive battleground state.
Still, Forman said that he hopes to organize mailings and events in traditionally "red" states like Virginia and Colorado.
Marc Stanley, NJDC's lay chair, who flew in from Texas for the program, said that the Republicans have an incredible emissary to the Jewish community in U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.). Lieberman, a one-time Democratic vice-presidential candidate who came to Philadelphia to stump for U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), has endorsed McCain.
"Democrats cannot afford to lose the support we get from the Jewish community," said Stanley.
During her speech, Schwartz argued that while support for Israel is important, Jews should base their votes on a host of other issues, like fiscal responsibility, approaches to combating poverty, support for stem-cell research and reproductive rights.
Schwartz is backing Clinton and, as a superdelegate, could potentially play a role in determining the nominee.
Casey, who has not endorsed either of his Senate colleagues, took a less partisan tone in his speech.
"We've got so many problems — fiscal, foreign policy, domestic — that no one party can solve them all," said the freshman senator. "I think this is critically important. Our goal should not just be to elect a new leader, but to commit ourselves to renewal."
Regarding the Middle East, Casey acknowledged that he remained highly skeptical of last year's National Intelligence Estimate report that claimed Iran gave up its nuclear-weapons program in 2003.
"They still remain a threat," he said.
On the subject of renewed talks between Israel and the Palestinians — jump-started late last year in Annapolis, Md. — Casey said that "not a lot is happening right now, but I'm glad it was at least started."