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Trenton Democrat urges support for Rick Santorum
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Trenton Democrat urges support for Rick Santorum

Lonny Kaplan asking fellow Jews to look beyond social issues

Rick Santorum, running under the slogan “the True Conservative,” may seem an odd match with a Trenton attorney often referred to as a “prominent New Jersey Democrat.”

But Lionel “Lonny” Kaplan is urging fellow Jews to look past Santorum’s views on abortion, contraception, and religion and consider the Republican candidate’s views on Israel and, especially, his proposals for fixing a troubled economy.

Kaplan, a former president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has donated the allowable maximum to Santorum’s campaign — $2,500 — and expects to play a large role in the Pennsylvania Republican’s fund-raising efforts.

It is the third time that Kaplan, who defines himself as a pro-choice liberal, has crossed party lines to back the Catholic conservative who has been his friend since 2000.

They met when Kaplan was AIPAC president and Santorum was seeking Jewish support for reelection to his United States Senate seat.

“Rick was very good on Israel, but the people in the pro-Israel world who were helping him were having some trouble with his campaign for reelection,” said Kaplan. “They came to me and said, ‘Lonny, can you help?’ And I did,” he told NJ Jewish News in a Feb 23 telephone interview. “When he ran in 2006 he asked me to get involved again, and I did.”

That year, Kaplan cochaired a $50,000 fund-raising dinner for Santorum sponsored by the pro-Israel NORPAC.

But this year, Kaplan is backing Santorum for reasons in addition to his support for Israel.

“I think this election is about a new direction for our economy and a new direction for our foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, and he is a good one to do it,” said Kaplan. “Obviously, Israel is a big consideration for me — but it is not the only consideration — and he is someone Israel can rely on.”

Santorum is expected to be a tough sell for Jewish voters, even among those disaffected with President Obama. Santorum is a staunch opponent of abortion under any circumstances, a critic of public schooling, and a favorite of the National Rifle Association. He supports constitutionalist jurists, and considers the scientific consensus that man-made carbon-dioxide emissions contribute to climate change a “hoax.”

“Santorum is already too extreme for independents and a clear majority of Americans, including some Republicans. For Jews who already vote Democratic and are progressive, he is a nonstarter,” David A. Harris, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, told NJJN.

“It is not just that he is anti-choice,” continued Harris. “He prides himself on being a crusader for divisive social issues — for being decidedly anti-gay, for opposing prenatal testing, for saying, ‘We always need a Jesus candidate.’ This is part and parcel of how he defines himself. Here is this persona, and it is anathema to the Jewish community.”

Some Republicans also consider Santorum’s stands on social issues too extreme. In the conservative Jewish magazine Commentary, Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, writes that the candidate’s stands on abortion, homosexuality, and contraception “create a portrait of a person who is censorious and sits in critical judgment of the lifestyle of most Americans.”

“The prospect of an American president using the ‘bully pulpit’ to speak out about the dangers and damaging effects of contraception on American society (including among married couples) is not a reassuring one,” wrote Wehner.

‘A different direction’

Kaplan urged fellow Jews to look past those issues.

“Does Rick have these views? Yes. Is that a challenge in our community? Yes. The way he can meet that challenge, I believe, is to stress that is not his rationale for running,” said Kaplan.

His advice to Santorum is “to change the subject. All people talk to him about is reproductive rights, and he has to be deft enough to take that topic and turn it into the economy and America’s place in the world. If he can’t do that he will have more trouble. If he is able to do that he will have less trouble.”

Kaplan said he had “no problem” with Santorum’s comment on a Boston radio show in January that “we always need a Jesus candidate.”

“I think it is good that people have a strong value system,” said Kaplan. “Do I agree with everything in Rick Santorum’s value system? No. But the fact he has a strong value system is a good thing, not a bad thing, for someone who could be leading the country and the world.”

Kaplan believes if Santorum gets the nomination, he will receive significant financial support from the Jewish community.

“Voter support remains to be seen. It depends upon what’s going on in the world. If the economy is humming along and Iran has given up its quest for nuclear weapons, my guess is the Jews will not vote for whoever the Republican nominee is, let alone Rick,” he said.

Although he declined to comment on Obama’s handling of Israel or other matters, Kaplan said he would vote in November for any of the current Republican candidates with the exception of Ron Paul. But despite this and his support for Santorum, Kaplan still considers himself a Democrat.

“I am extremely involved in Sen. Bob Menendez’s reelection campaign on an ongoing daily basis, as I am with Sen. Bob Casey,” he said, referring to two Democratic lawmakers. “I am a Democrat who thinks we need a different direction. It is about policies. It has nothing to do with Obama personally.”

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