The selection of Senator Joe Lieberman as Al Gore’s running mate has dramatically changed the electoral landscape in New York and may influence a host of New York contests, from the most obscure local election in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to the celebrated Senate battle between Rick Lazio and HillaryRodham Clinton.
By choosing an Orthodox Jewish politician with a decidedly conservative bent, the Gore campaign has, with a single gesture, made it tougher for George W. Bush to make serious gains in New York and thus crack the Northeast. It has delighted the Democratic Party’s fund-raisers, who are already planning to make a killing off of Mr. Lieberman’s groundbreaking candidacy in the so-called A.T.M. state. Above all, supporters of Mrs. Clinton hope, the name “Lieberman” at the top of the Democratic ticket may succeed in placing a kosher stamp on the forehead of their candidate, whose problems with Jewish voters threaten to doom her Senate aspirations.
“Senator Lieberman is Hillary Clinton’s running mate,” said one top Democratic strategist.
Of course, he also happens to be Al Gore’s running mate.
“It showed real courage-it took testicles to pick a running mate who’s had a briss,” said City Council member Ken Fisher of Brooklyn, who has informally advised the Gore campaign.
Mr. Fisher said Mr. Gore-and all the Democrats under him-can, for one, expect a higher turnout on Nov. 4.
“Secondly, it will attract Jewish and non-Jewish independent and moderate voters to the Democratic line, some of whom will stay and vote for Hillary and other Democratic candidates.
“And third, at some point, I would expect Lieberman to come to New York City and pronounce Hillary kosher.”
For their part, Mr. Gore’s advisers clearly hope Mr. Lieberman’s choice will excite New York’s Democratic leaders, whose support for their nominee has at times been lackluster. Within hours after the news broke of Mr. Lieberman’s choice, a list of “talking points,” dispatched from campaign headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., appeared on the fax machines of the Democratic elite all over New York State.
The talking points, obtained by The Observer , instruct Democrats to laud Mr. Lieberman in sweeping terms as a candidate who “will make history,” who is a “New Guard Democrat” who “puts family and faith first.”
“Forty years ago, in Los Angeles, the Democratic Party nominated John F. Kennedy, the nation’s first Roman Catholic president,” the talking points read. “This year, again in Los Angeles, the Democratic Party will make history again by nominating Senator Joe Lieberman.”
Interestingly, the talking points make no mention that Mr. Lieberman was the first Democratic Senator to denounce Mr. Clinton for “pointing out that the intern had no clothes,” as Mr. Fisher put it. Nor do they contain any permutation of the word “Jew.”
The talking points do say that Mr. Lieberman “represents the new generation of leadership determined to move America forward-not the Old Guard that wants to take the country back to the Bush-Quayle-Cheney era of deficits and recession.”
State Democratic chairman Judith Hope, for one, had no trouble staying on message. Within hours of the circulation of the talking points, Ms. Hope issued a statement: The choice, she opined, “represents the new generation of leadership determined to move America forward-not the Old Guard that wants to take the country back to the Bush-Quayle-Cheney era of deficits and recession.”
Soaring prose aside, the choice of Mr. Lieberman is a clear bid to unravel Mr. Bush’s efforts to realign the Republican Party by cracking the northeast states-the most prized, of course, being New York. By making a direct pitch to minority and independent voters at the Republican National Convention, Mr. Bush clearly hoped to force Mr. Gore to pour time and resources into states like New York and Connecticut, which Mr. Gore needs to carry if he has any hope in November. Democrats are already gleefully boasting that the boldness of Mr. Gore’s decision has made the parade of minority performers at the Republican convention seem as relevant as a bad rerun of Showtime at the Apollo (without the much-needed hook of Sandman Sims).
“The choice clearly trumped the Republican minstrel show,” gloated Mr. Fisher.
The Lieberman factor also could erase Mr. Bush’s edge in Florida, home of his brother, Governor Jeb Bush-not to mention many thousands of expatriate New Yorkers who might be inclined to write a check in support of a ticket that included a Northeast Jew.
The Democratic party’s top fund-raisers are hoping to make a killing off of Mr. Lieberman’s candidacy. “This is going to motivate a lot of people to be a part of this effort in terms of fund-raising,” said Robert Zimmerman, a top fund-raiser for Mr. Gore. “There’s a tremendous amount of excitement.”
What’s more, the Lieberman selection may change the outcome of the most watched contest in New York: the Senate race. Republicans insist that Mr. Lieberman will do little to win Jewish votes away from Mr. Lazio, who has made vigorous efforts to erode Mrs. Clinton’s support with Jews, a crucial voting block for Democrats in statewide elections.
“I don’t think it will move the Lazio-Clinton race half a point,” said Kieran Mahoney, a close adviser to Governor George Pataki. “If someone named Hillary Smith were running for Senate, she’d get helped. But Hillary Clinton is a known quantity, and not particularly favorably at that.”
Mr. Lazio’s advisers, for their part, insist Mr. Lieberman will have little impact on the race, and say they are not changing their strategy.
“Lieberman might help their national ticket, but it shouldn’t have any affect on the Senate race. New York voters are ticket-splitters and always have been,” said a Lazio adviser.
Still, Mrs. Clinton’s advisers have reason to be cheered by the selection of Mr. Lieberman. As early as last December, Democrats were desperately trying to figure out a way to boost her rapidly dwindling support among Jewish voters, who constitute 12 to 15 percent of the New York electorate. At the time, many Democrats conceded that her clumsy handling of a variety of Jewish issues could easily cost her the election. (Polls were showing that her support among Jews fell well short of the 66 percent Democrats traditionally need to win a statewide race.)
At that tense moment, Mrs. Clinton’s advisers asked none other than Mr. Lieberman to stand alongside her during an appearance before the Orthodox Union, an audience which might have offered her a hostile reception. (Due in part, no doubt, to Mr. Lieberman’s presence, they didn’t.)
Now Mr. Lieberman will be on the top of the ticket, which could sanitize her in the eyes of Jewish swing voters. “Jewish voters are undecided in twice the number as regular voters,” said Ryan Karben, a Rockland County Democrat and Orthodox Jew. “So a swing of even 10 percent of that vote, which Lieberman can do, can determine this election.”
Mr. Lieberman could also help Mrs. Clinton and other Democrats win the crucial turnout battle, by drawing out voters other than Jews.
“Most of our battlegrounds are in the city and suburbs, and Lieberman will be very important in swing places like Rockland, Queens and Nassau,” said Upper West Side State Senator Eric Schneiderman, who is in charge of winning the State Senate back from the Republicans. “For a lot of swing voters, not just Jews but moderate Democrats who could conceivably vote for Lazio, Lieberman is their kind of guy.”
The Senate race, meanwhile, may be decided by voter turnout. In 1998, Senator Chuck Schumer thumped incumbent Alfonse D’Amato largely because Republican voters stayed home. And in Presidential election years, Democrats tend to get a stronger uplift in turnout than Republicans, a trend that could be enhanced by the suddenly glamorous Gore-Lieberman ticket.
“I didn’t think Gore’s coattails would be very long in New York,” said Jeffrey H. Lynford, an investment banker who raises money for Mrs. Clinton. “With Lieberman, that changes.”
In the end, as a New York story, the rise of Mr. Lieberman has the state’s political classes speaking in rarefied terms that offer much-needed relief from the endless chatter about wedge issues, cross-endorsements and overnight polls.
“I can understand why people were reluctant about Catholic candidates 50 years ago,” former Governor Mario Cuomo said. “They suspected that the Pope, who is a formidable figure, and who has done some terrible things historically, might supervene. Not true, but I could see you feeling that way. But what do you have against the Jews? I understand they have two basic principles. One thing is tzedaka , which means, ‘We’re all brothers.’ Anyone here against that? No? Good. And the other is tikun olam . Which means, ‘We should all hold hands and make the world a better place.’ Does that frighten anyone?”
Mr. Cuomo paused, then added:
“What is it that makes you hate the Jews? Is it their success? Is it jealousy? Is it something you were taught growing up? Was it something in your soup?”