The Iran issue may be a bit of a wild card in the 2008 presidential primaries, to say nothing of the general election, according to columnist Dick Polman. Will voters ultimately reward tough talk on Iran? Or will it make the majority of the electorate skittish about the prospects of another war, considering how unpopular the conflict in Iraq has become?
"Part of the reason Iran has risen to the top in the first place is that we toppled the guy who was the cork in the bottle against Iranian power in the region," said Polman, referring to Saddam Hussein. "It's been one of those consequences of the war. I think the majority of Jewish voters are going to factor that in with everything else."
In a brunch program this past Sunday at the Gershman Y, the Philadelphia Inquirer national political commentator focused on the Jewish vote and the 2008 election. He addressed the back-and-forth that's been going on between U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and her closest — but, at this point, fairly distant — rival, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) over whether or not, and under what conditions, to negotiate with Iran.
Specifically, Polman, also a full-time faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania, addressed Clinton's recent support of a U.S. Senate resolution that branded Iran's revolutionary guard as a terrorist organization. U.S. Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) and U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) opposed the measure; Obama missed the vote.
On the one hand, Polman said, the vote may help Clinton with centrist and independent voters who are concerned with national security. On the other, her opponents have asserted that "by taking that vote, she's enabling the Bush administration to seize on that in order to become more aggressive militarily toward Iran."
"It may upset people on her left, anti-war liberals," he added, "but push comes to shove, they are not going to vote against her, for a Republican, on that basis."
By merely mentioning Clinton's stance, Polman prompted a debate among audience members.
During the question-and-answer session, one man called the former first lady "America's worst nightmare." A cacophony of disagreement from much of the audience soon followed.
Polman outlined the intensive Republican effort over the past eight years to woo Jewish voters. In many ways, he argued, the GOP's "success" among Jews has mirrored its fortunes overall.
According to Polman, George W. Bush received 19 percent of the Jewish vote when he first ran in 2000 — a number that grew to 25 percent when he ran for re-election in 2004. In the mid-term elections in 2002 — the first after the Sept. 11 attacks — the Republicans captured 35 percent, and gained additional seats in the house and recaptured the Senate. But in 2006, that figure plummeted to 12 percent; in a vote widely considered a rebuke to Bush's Iraq policy, the Democrats were returned to both chambers.
Rudy Out, Romney In?
Polman didn't make a prediction as to what the percentage would be this time around. He did surmise that the GOP candidate who would probably garner the most Jewish support — namely, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani — would fail to capture the nomination.
Instead, he predicted that the victory would go to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, with his pro-life stance and heavy war chest.
Still, Polman noted that Romney possesses some problems for Jewish voters, particularly the fact that this member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently admitted in Newsweek that he'd taken part in the Mormon practice of baptizing, or converting, deceased persons. In the past, the church has used Holocaust archives for lists of names to convert them as well.
In his campaign, Romney has worked to downplay his religious background, and emphasize his experience in management and government.
After the program, Diane Steinbrink, a Center City resident and a Democrat, said that one of the issues most important to her was the Supreme Court — namely, who would get to choose the next nominee to the bench. "These are very scary times, and there is a lot riding on this election."