October 20, 2006

by Andrew Silow-Carroll
What Menendez said

From New Jersey Jewish News Web page:

Republican senatorial candidate Thomas H. Kean is accusing Sen. Robert Menendez of “pandering” for votes in the Jewish community after the Democratic candidate appeared to retract an implied endorsement of Joseph Lieberman.

At a candidates forum Wednesday night at a synagogue in Livingston, sponsored by the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, Menendez was read a question submitted by an audience member, asking why he supported Democratic candidate Ned Lamont and not Lieberman in his independent bid for the Connecticut senate seat.

“I didn’t support Ned Lamont and not Joe Lieberman,” said Menendez, in a statement captured on audiotape by an NJ Jewish News reporter.

Menendez then repeated the assertion: “I didn’t support Ned Lamont and not Joe Lieberman, so I don’t know where the questioner gets their question. The reality is I am privileged to serve with Joe Lieberman. I think he is a tremendous United States Senator and certainly I supported him when he was running in his primary. So the answer is Joe Lieberman is a great United States Senator and I wish him luck and hope he returns.”

Menedez's camp clarifies his statement, which seems to contradict earlier statements saying he endorses Democrat Lamont's bid for the Conn. Senate seat:

"Menendez endorsed Lieberman in the primary over Ned Lamont,” he said. “What he meant the other night was he has great respect for Joe Lieberman. He thinks Lieberman has been a tremendous senator, and should he be reelected he will welcome him back to the Senate."

What's most interesting about this is how support for Lieberman versus Lamont appears to be a litmus test for some Jewish voters, and, moreover, candidates know this and are ready to pander, on all sides, to prove their allegiance to Joe Lieberman. This is Kean at the same candidates forum:

“We need individuals who are going to reach across the partisan island to get things done,” said Kean. “I anticipate that Joe Lieberman is going to win the general election. Joe Lieberman is exactly the type of individual on issues like homeland security and creating opportunity that we can work across the aisle to find the proper solutions to the issues facing us. I support Joe Lieberman for the United States Senate in Connecticut. I think he is the right individual to be a leader, and I look forward to serving with Joe Lieberman.”

After scattered applause, Kean added: “And by the way, to close out, my opponent supports Ned Lamont, by the way.”

Republican Jews would like to cast the vote for Lamont as a referendum on Israel and thus a sign of Democratic drift on Israel -- the RJC said as much in a fullpage ad it took out after Lieberman was defeated in the primary.

The question is, is this perception shared beyond the RJC, and are the Jewish undecided worried about what the Lamont phenomenon says about Democrats and Israel?

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