Sen. John McCain tells NJ supporters he advocates offshore oil drilling and nuclear power plants “to stop giving billions of dollars a year to countries who don’t like us.”
August 21, 2008
Republican John McCain visited New Jersey Aug. 12 and left with $1.5 million in new contributions, much of it raised at two events sponsored by members of the state’s Jewish community.
In a lunchtime gathering, McCain’s wife, Cindy, helped raise between $100,000 and $200,000 at a private meeting in the Rumson home of Lewis Eisenberg, a veteran Jewish philanthropist and former chair of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
But the bulk of the money came in an evening fund-raiser in Teaneck, where a crowd that included Orthodox rabbis, college students, and elected officials donated an estimated $1.3 million.
Some 500 supporters — most of whom paid $1,000 and up for admission — gathered in the Glen Pointe Marriott Grand Ballroom to hear from the candidate himself and one of his most ardent supporters, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Ind.-Conn.).
The event was sponsored by NORPAC, the nonpartisan political action committee which raises funds for candidates it considers strongly pro-Israel.
NORPAC officials said the event was not an official endorsement of McCain, and that if members of the group requested it, the PAC would assist in a fund-raiser for Democrat Barack Obama (see sidebar).
Supporters waited more than an hour for the Republican candidate to appear.
Meanwhile, in a separate smaller room, the two senators and Cindy McCain were at a private roundtable session with some 40 major donors.
“These are the people who have raised or given $25,000 or more for his campaign,” explained Ben Chouake, the Englewood physician who is NORPAC’s president.
“Sen. McCain gave us a quick briefing about the campaign, and we did a Q&A with him. I thought it would be good for him to hear what his lieutenants in the field are thinking and why they are stepping up to the plate for him. He answered a whole series of questions about Iran, U.S.-Israel relations, the Palestinian Authority, and that sort of stuff.”
After the roundtable ended, McCain and his entourage entered the ballroom, and eager members of the audience stood and moved closer to the stage.
Referring to Obama as “a bright young man who is not ready to be president,” Lieberman opened the evening by pointing to the conflict between Russia and Georgia.
“Unpredictable things can happen in the world,” he said. “John McCain is seasoned and ready to handle them.”
Calling himself “a Democrat — an independent Democrat,” Lieberman said McCain “has a track record of working across the aisle in the Senate to get things done.”
A swarm of supporters seeking autographs and handshakes gather around Sen. McCain as he moves to leave the Teaneck hotel ballroom Aug. 12.
Photos by Robert Wiener
As McCain began his 15-minute address, moving back and forth on the stage, microphone in hand, he thanked Lieberman for his friendship and support.
Mentioning their recent trip together to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, McCain said, “We cannot allow a second Holocaust to take place,” referring obliquely to the possibility that Iran might develop nuclear weapons and use them against Israel.
Turning to domestic issues, he said, “The country needs to be reformed. Spending is out of control.” Citing a quotation from the late President Ronald Reagan —“Congress spends money like a drunken sailor” — McCain said he recently received an e-mail from a Navy veteran.
“It said, ‘I used to be a drunken sailor myself, and I resent being compared to members of Congress.’”
His words were received with laughter, followed by applause a moment later when he pledged not to raise taxes.
Applause came again when McCain insisted, “We have to drill for oil offshore now. We have to use wind and wave and solar power, but we must have nuclear power plants. We have to build 45 of them in the next 10 years.”
Referring to oil-producing nations, he said, “We have to stop giving billions of dollars a year to countries who don’t like us.”
McCain said he strongly supported the government of Georgia and its embattled president, Mikheil Saakashvili, whom he referred to as “a friend.” He suggested that Russia should be “thrown out of the G8,” the association of industrialized nations. “Russia must be made to understand that what was not acceptable in the 20th century will not be acceptable in the 21st century,” McCain pledged.
Then, in a concluding remark, he appealed “to a new generation of Americans to look beyond their self-interest in the coming years.”
On the morning after the event he organized, NORPAC’s president was beaming.
“It worked out beautifully. Sen. McCain made people very happy,” Chouake said.
He brushed aside the findings of a new Quinnipiac University poll released a day after the fund-raiser. It showed Obama 10 points ahead of the Republican candidate — 51 to 41 percent — among likely voters in New Jersey, a gain of four points since the previous poll in June.
“I think McCain is going to win,” said Chouake, who has been an admirer since the Arizona senator first ran for president in 2000.
“Barack Obama is an electrifying candidate. He does a great job. He connects very well with people. But at the end of the day, people want someone to run the country, a commander-in-chief who is qualified, who is experienced, who has merit, and who has wisdom.”
The McCain camp is counting on winning over Jews who typically vote Democratic.
Gladys Halpern of Livingston told NJ Jewish News she usually votes Democratic, but after meeting McCain’s wife at lunch, she said, she decided to vote for the Republican in November.
When Cindy McCain appears on television, said Halpern, she appears “so plastic, like a Barbie doll. But she is a very eloquent and yet very shy person, and all she spoke about was her husband and his experience.
“To me, Obama is a newborn child.”
Rabbi Menachem Genack of Englewood, chief executive officer of the Orthodox Union’s Kashrus Division and another traditionally Democratic voter, was a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton who attended the roundtable discussion as one of Chouake’s invited guests.
Genack said he was struck by “how close McCain is to Joe Lieberman. I am convinced that were McCain to win, Lieberman would either be secretary of state or secretary of defense.”
The rabbi, who has met with both McCain and Obama, called both men “impressive,” even as he deplored negative attacks coming from both candidates’ camps.
“There are two lies in this campaign. One is that Obama is a Muslim and has an anti-Israel agenda,” said Genack. “The other is that McCain will be Bush’s third term. I don’t believe that, either.”
In contrast, there are NORPAC members who are Democrats and remain committed to Obama.
In fact, NORPAC members Rep. Steve Rothman (D-Dist. 9) and State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Dist. 37), early backers of Obama in New Jersey’s Jewish communities, are planning to host a fund-raising benefit for the Illinois senator. No date for the event has yet been announced.
A fund-raiser, not an endorsement
UPWARD OF a third of the $1.5 million raised by John McCain and his wife at a New Jersey fund-raiser Aug. 12 came via donations through the pro-Israel political action committee NORPAC — with even more coming through other NORPAC-affiliated donors. But the president of the group said that the event was not an official endorsement of the Arizona legislator, and if there was interest, the PAC would be willing to assist with a fund-raiser for Barack Obama.
NORPAC president Ben Chouake said that the details of the Teaneck fund-raiser were arranged by the McCain campaign, but that many of those who chaired the event were affiliated with the New Jersey-based political action committee. Unlike many other traditional pro-Israel PACs, which raise money and then distribute those funds to candidates, NORPAC acts as a “conduit,” Chouake said, bundling the contributions they collect for a specific candidate so as to best demonstrate the support a candidate is receiving from the pro-Israel community.
Chouake, who describes himself as a supporter of the Republican candidate, estimated that among the 6,000 people on NORPAC’s mailing list, the split was 80-20 for McCain — although he did note that as a single-issue Israel group, his PAC is not a true representation of the feelings of the entire Jewish community.
— ERIC FINGERHUT, JTA