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Mailing touts Bush to Jewish voters

A brochure to Jewish residents is seen by some as GOP pandering in a Democratic stronghold.

By STEVE BOUSQUET and ADAM C. SMITH
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 30, 2002


TALLAHASSEE -- The glossy, full-color campaign brochure features a picture of the president, the governor and the flags of Israel and the United States. A letter from Gov. Jeb Bush talks of his visits to Israel and Florida's close ties to the country.

In recent days, the Florida Republican Party has mailed thousands of those brochures to Jewish voters across Florida.

But the mailing is angering some Jewish voters who say it looks like Bush is pandering to them.

"People are upset by it," said Marvin Manning, president of the Democratic Club of Century Village in Boca Raton.

Palm Beach County Democratic Party Chairman Monte Friedkin said Bush was "pandering to the Jewish community in a big way, which leads me to believe he's running scared."

Some Jewish voters also wondered whether they were singled out because of their surnames.

GOP spokesman Towson Fraser said the party did not target voters by surname. He said the party compiled a mailing list that included voters who belong to various professional, social and political groups.

By sending a mailing aimed at Jewish voters, a key constituency of the Democrats, the Republican Party and the governor signaled they are still trying to broaden their base of support in the campaign's final week.

Meanwhile, Democrat Bill McBride continues to spend precious time introducing himself in South Florida Democratic areas that favored Janet Reno in the September primary and whose support is essential to him.

The latest St. Petersburg Times-Miami Herald poll published Sunday showed McBride leading Bush in South Florida by just 9 percentage points. It is doubtful that the modest advantage would be large enough for McBride to counter Bush's gains in more Republican-leaning counties in Central and North Florida.

While the GOP brochure describes Bush as a "friend of Israel," the governor has taken some positions that many Jewish voters oppose. For example, he supports school vouchers, opposes abortion rights and approved a "Choose Life" license tag.

The governor, a Catholic, speaks often about his faith. He told a Fort Lauderdale Baptist congregation Sunday that he has "accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior."

The latest mailing prominently shows Bush and his brother, President Bush, waving in front of the flag of Israel. It reminds voters the governor has been to Israel four times.

Bush's endorsement by the Jewish Journal, a weekly paper popular with retirees, is also featured.

"The short of it is that Jeb Bush is a mensch who really cares about people," publisher Bruce Warshal wrote. "He is an economic middle-of-the-road capitalist who hates discrimination and intolerance."

At Warshal's urging, Bush wrote a letter and made phone calls two years ago urging the Royal Palm Yacht and Country Club to open its doors to black and Jewish members. The club reached an agreement with Attorney General Bob Butterworth's office. But Warshal, a Democrat, said Bush played an important behind-the-scenes role.

Inside the brochure are testimonials from Sen. Ron Silver, D-North Miami; Norman Braman, a Miami area businessman and Jewish leader; and Harold Wishna, a Broward County Jewish activist and Bush appointee to a statewide board on Holocaust education.

"If I thought for one minute that he wasn't sincere, I'd have never gotten on board with him," said Wishna, who also endorsed Bush in 1998.

But Palm Beach County Commissioner Burt Aaronson said the mailing suggests that Democrats have done little for the Jews, "which I resent."

"How many Jewish judges has Jeb Bush appointed?" Aaronson asked.

Aaronson introduced McBride Tuesday at a campaign event by highlighting McBride's background as a busboy in college, waiting on tables at the Concord, a Catskills resort long popular with Jewish vacationers.

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