Al Gore has taken presidential politics into new territory by picking Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, as his running mate. Is the nation ready to elect a Jewish vice president?
ABCNEWS.com Aug. 7
— Al Gore’s selection of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, as his running mate takes the Democratic presidential ticket into uncharted waters.
Never before has a presidential candidate chosen a Jewish running mate. Word that Gore will formally announce the Connecticut senator as his running mate on Tuesday has sparked questions about whether enough of the American public is ready to elect a Jewish vice president.
Asked if he thought a Jewish candidate would face the prospect of anti-Semitism while campaigning, Gore told ABCNEWS last week, “I don’t think those old distinctions and categories matter these days, the way they did in the past.”
The vice president added: “I think we’ve grown as a nation … I think we’ve grown beyond that kind of attitude. I think that the day is coming when that’ll be completely irrelevant in all of our politics.”
Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, a major Jewish organization, said today the choice of Lieberman was “a milestone in America’s political maturity.” He called Lieberman a “man of experience, values, conscience, and a strong commitment to America’s democratic principles.”
Rendell Expresses Concern
But Ed Rendell, the former mayor of Philadelphia who is now chairman of the Democratic National Committee — and who is Jewish himself — raised concerns about whether Lieberman’s faith might have a negative effect on some voters.
“I don’t think anyone can calculate the effect of having a Jew on the ticket,” Rendell said while talking to reporters on Satuday.
But Rendell added, “I’m not sure that the people who would vote against us because Joe is Jewish aren’t going to vote against us anyway.”
Gore campaign Chairman William Daley said on ABCNEWS’ This Week Sunday morning that he did not share Rendell’s concerns.
“I firmly believe we’re well beyond the issue of religion,” Daley said, invoking the name of another Democrat, John F. Kennedy, who broke down a barrier in 1960 by becoming the first Catholic to be elected president.
Democrats have already begun pointing out that Kennedy was also nominated by his party in Los Angeles, site of this year’s Democratic convention.
The Surveys Say …
A Gallup poll conducted last year showed that anti-Semitism would seem to be a minor factor in a presidential election. Asked whether they would vote for a Jewish candiate for president, 92 percent of voters said they would. Only 6 percent said they would not.
To show how times have changed, a 1937 Gallup survey asking the same thing showed just 46 percent saying they would vote for a Jewish president, while 47 said they would not.
In 1983, an ABCNEWS poll showed 83 percent of respondents saying they would vote for a Jewish candidate for vice president.
Certainly, Lieberman himself has encountered little anti-Semitism in his senatorial races. In 1994, the last time he ran, Lieberman won 67 percent of the vote — and took 65 percent of the vote among white Protestants and 64 percent among white Catholics, although the latter group tends to vote Democratic anyway.
One thing Lieberman can count on is support from a Jewish community that tends to strongly support Democrats of any religious persuasion.