Making bid for Jewish votes Sauerbrey targets group associated with Democrats

Campaign 1998

May 02, 1998|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF Sun research librarian Robert Schrott contributed to this article.

Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey completed a weeklong visit yesterday to Israel, part of her campaign to win Jewish support and weaken Democrats' decades-old hold on the governorship.

Some Maryland Jewish leaders scoff at the notion that Sauerbrey -- with her opposition to abortion rights, gun control and many social programs -- can reverse generations of Jewish support for Democrats.

But recent elections elsewhere suggest that Jews are increasingly willing to support Republicans. In recent mayoral races in New York and Los Angeles, Jewish voters supported Republicans by nearly 3-to-1 margins, according to exit polls.

Experts say even small gains among Jews -- as much as 8 percent of the Maryland electorate -- could be enough to swing a close governor's race.

"Ellen is on very, very solid ground if she's trying to beat the drum of Israel," said J. J. Goldberg, the New York-based author of "Jewish Power," a book on Jewish political muscle.

Local analysts, judging by results in bellwether precincts in Pikesville and Owings Mills, say Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, won 80 percent of the state's Jewish votes in 1994.

"Overwhelmingly, the Jewish community went for Glendening last time," said Art Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council.

That, combined with even heavier support from African-Americans, allowed Glendening to eke out a 6,000-vote victory against Sauerbrey in 1994.

In the hope of winning a rematch this year, Sauerbrey is courting both groups -- something for which she had little time in 1994, when the general election came just eight weeks after her upset victory in the GOP primary.

"We had to go where the Republicans were," said Sauerbrey's 1994 running mate Paul H. Rappaport. "There aren't too many Republicans in Pikesville and those areas."

About 211,000 Jews lived in Maryland -- about 4.2 percent of the state's population -- in 1995, according to the "American Jewish Year Book." No information is available on the number of Jewish voters in Maryland, but national data suggest they are 8 percent of the state's voters because Jews vote in greater numbers than other groups.

The newly formed Jewish Coalition for Ellen Sauerbrey for Governor, which claims 72 members, hopes to target those voters.

The group, headed by former Montgomery County state Sen. Howard A. Denis and Baltimore GOP Chairman David R. Blumberg, plans a Sauerbrey meet-and-greet event for Jewish supporters at the Pikesville Hilton in July.

Last week, the group bought large ads in the Baltimore Jewish Times and the Owings Mills Times touting Sauerbrey's trip to Israel, which included a live interview on the Tom Marr radio show Tuesday on WCBM-AM.

The ad also promotes Sauerbrey's plan to open a Maryland trade mission in Jerusalem, an idea with broad support among Jewish leaders.

On the radio show, Sauerbrey spoke by phone from Jerusalem, telling of receptions with Israeli dignitaries and visits to Jewish settlements and the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem's Old City.

Sauerbrey also told listeners that she first visited Israel as a legislator long before her campaigns for governor began. "I was here in 1982," she said, "and seeing the changes over the last 16 years is just phenomenal."

But some Jewish Democrats say that Sauerbrey is a latecomer (( to these issues, that her visit to Israel -- tied to the nation's 50th anniversary celebrations this week -- was political tokenism.

"Some people in the Jewish community find it very patronizing when people all the sudden go to Israel on our 50th anniversary," said state Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat. "Where have you been all these years?"

Hollinger and others say Sauerbrey's record is at odds with the social agenda dear to Jewish leaders who favor abortion rights, gun control and social programs for the disadvantaged.

"Ellen Sauerbrey is way outside the mainstream," said state Democratic Party Chairman Peter B. Krauser of Prince George's County, past president of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington. "It's unlikely she's going to arouse much support in the Jewish community."

Not so, according to Sauerbrey.

"The Jewish people who are supporting me," she said, "care deeply about safety in their neighborhoods, the effectiveness of their schools and a growing economy."

Goldberg, the author, said Democrats can count on about 55 percent of Jewish voters in most elections. Republicans can count on about 10 percent. The rest, about 35 percent, can be swayed to either side, Goldberg says.

But he also notes that Jewish voters are moved by varying issues.

Orthodox Jews, one-fifth of the Jewish community in the Baltimore area, supported Sauerbrey in 1994, say local Jewish analysts. A key factor was her support for school vouchers, which funnel state money into parochial schools. Orthodox Jews agree with Sauerbrey's opposition to abortion rights as well.

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