In late February, a national survey of Jewish voters by the non-partisan Jewish Electorate Institute (JEI) found the following: More than 65 percent of respondents identified as Democrats; an overwhelming majority of these voters disapproved of President Trump; and two-thirds of those surveyed said they will vote for a generic Democratic candidate over Trump in the 2020 general election.
Presented with the current Biden-Sanders face off, local Jewish community members intending to vote blue in November are weighing their personal feelings about the candidates and their policy priorities, along with a deep-seated desire for change, to determine who they’ll ultimately support.
Wanted: Unifying, aspirational leadership
Anne Stolley Persky, 50, said she used to keep her politics to herself, particularly as someone who covered presidential politics as a journalist.
Virginia does not require party registration, and the Fairfax resident said she tended to vote for Democrats while occasionally crossing over to vote for Republicans.
In any election, Stolley Persky looks for a leader who “encourages us to be the best versions of ourselves,” she said. “I am looking for someone who talks about morality, and can show empathy and kindness, along with firm leadership.”
Wanted: A return to an old vision, or a bold new one
Randy Darnowsky, 32, lives in southern Maryland. He works as an engineer and his policy priorities are the economy, defense and support for Israel.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) was originally Darnowsky’s top pick for 2020; then former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, until he dropped out as well. While Darnowsky voted for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the 2016 primaries, this time around — even though he is still a fan of Sanders’ civil rights activism and opposition to bank bailouts — he plans to support former vice president Joe Biden. Supporting a Jewish candidate for the highest office in the land is important to Darnowsky, but he said he is giving more consideration to the candidate he believes will mediate “positive peace talk discussions” between Israelis and Palestinians.
For Sanders supporter Samantha Noland, Israel is the only area in which her preferred candidate gives her pause. A Silver Spring native, the 21 year old is enrolled in Cornell University’s Cornell in Washington program and interning at a D.C.-based Jewish nonprofit. Conditioning aid toward Israel as Sanders did is a concern, she said, but “I’m willing to say he’s the best candidate for the U.S. right now.”
“I really like his stand for the 99 percent, caring for the people who make up most of the country whose needs aren’t always taken care of. Medicare for All is getting more attention this time around, and I also support the Green New Deal and his stance on removing college debt for college students,” she said.
Sam, a 49-year-old Arlington resident and lifelong Democratic voter, said Sanders’ “1960s-era socialism of the type that was tried in European countries” was later either rejected or significantly modified. “It would bankrupt the country and fail to accomplish [Sanders’] lofty goals,” he said. (Sam requested that his real name not be used because of his job in the public school system.)
Sam’s original candidate of choice was Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Her “calm, commonsensical demeanor” appealed to him, and he found her approach to policy pragmatic, he said. “She would further a progressive agenda through building broad-based coalitions and focusing on what can realistically be done.
“I believe [Sanders] is a good, decent person who believes passionately in creating a more just society, with a long track record of railing against the establishment from the outside without any record of actually getting much done,” said Sam.
Biden’s record, on the other hand, is a shortcoming for Noland. While Sanders has always supported reproductive rights, Biden flip-flopped over the course of his career, Noland said. She also thinks her generation will not look kindly on his passivity in the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings.
“He just kind of sat there and let people attack her, and that’s another thing I’m pretty disappointed in,” she said.
“I’m worried about a 2016 situation, where young people didn’t like either option and chose not to vote,” she said.
Wanted: Whoever can beat Trump in November
Almost everyone interviewed expressed disdain that the field of candidates narrowed down to, as Sam put it, “two geriatric white men.”
Stolley Persky started off supporting Harris, then Sen. Corey Booker (D-N.J.), before voting for Biden in the Virginia primary. “Would I have loved to have a woman in there or someone younger or a POC [person of color]? Sure, that would have been great, but that’s not how it happened this time around,” she said.
“Biden is someone who has worked hard on our behalf, and has earned trust. I’m good with that,” she said. “He has also lived through terrible pain, and is not shy of that characteristic so missing from our current administration — empathy.”
Matt suggested Biden should “paint a more coherent picture,” specifically laying out the things Trump “has done for the rich, against the environment and against our allies that he will correct.”
“Biden has to give people a positive reason to support him, not just because he isn’t Trump or Sanders,” said Sam. “I think this should be easy to do because he has an inclusive vision, tremendous personal decency and excellent credentials. What he has to avoid doing is coming across as old and befuddled.”
Sam doesn’t think a socialist candidate will be able to rack up the votes necessary to beat Trump in November. But if Sanders wins the Democratic nomination, Sam said he will probably not only vote for him but also support him, probably with money and volunteering. Likewise, Noland said she would vote for Biden if Sanders doesn’t secure the nomination.
“I know a lot of people who feel he’s not the option that they want, but I hope they still vote for him” if he wins the nomination, she said.
As Stolley Persky put it: “Let’s be honest — I would vote for a paper bag or a rock to get Trump out of office.”