McCain fund-raiser draws crowd and cash

McCain fund-raiser draws crowd and cash

We will not allow a second Holocaust to take place in the State of Israel," Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain told a crowd of supporters in Teaneck Tuesday night.

Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain spoke to hundreds of supporters in Teaneck on Tuesday. Photos by josh lipowsky

The Arizona senator spoke to an audience of more than 500 people at the Marriott at Glenpointe at a campaign fund-raiser hosted by the Englewood-based pro-Israel North Jersey Political Action Committee. NORPAC’s president, Dr. Ben Chouake, a member of McCain’s finance committee, spearheaded the effort to bring the senator to Teaneck with Leonia businessman Dr. Munr Kazmir. While NORPAC lent its political muscle to the event, the McCain campaign covered all expenses, including renting the hotel and providing kosher and non-kosher catering.

Above, Sen. Joe Lieberman appeared with McCain and spoke favorably of his colleague. Left, Dr. Ben Chouake co-chaired Tuesday’s NORPAC fund-raiser.

With required donations of $1,000 just to get in the door, $10,000 for a picture with McCain, and $’5,000 to participate in a roundtable discussion, the campaign raised approximately $1.5 million, Chouake said. Earlier in the day the campaign stopped in Monmouth County for a smaller event that featured spouse Cindy McCain. The $1.5 million includes funds raised from both affairs. About $600,000 from Tuesday’s pot are donations from NORPAC members bundled under the PAC’s banner, according to Chouake.

"It was a very gratifying evening," Chouake said. "You work hard and it’s nice to see so many people."

The funds will be a boost to the presumptive Republican nominee who had previously raised only $’.5 million in New Jersey compared to presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama, who has garnered $6 million. Obama leads McCain in state polls by at least 10 points. A Republican has not won New Jersey in a presidential election since Ronald Reagan, but Chouake said that the "definition of blue and red states is a little bit blurred in this campaign."

"The people of New Jersey and around the country will recognize there is a big difference" between the candidates, Chouake said. "Probably John McCain is much closer to their centrist views than Barack Obama and I think he’s going to win New Jersey."

Tuesday’s event is likely to be McCain’s final fund-raising stop in the Garden State although he may return to campaign, Chouake said.

With McCain was his close friend and former Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). Although Lieberman told the crowd that while he still considers himself a Democrat, he does not believe Obama has the necessary experience to be president.

McCain, with his wife, Cindy, standing behind him, spoke about his relationship with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and condemned Russia’s military actions. The senator went so far as to call for Russia’s removal from the G8 group of eight industrialized nations.

"There are difficult times, and the Russians have to understand that that kind of conduct was not acceptable in the ‘0th century and it’s certainly not acceptable in the ‘1st century," McCain said.

The senator said, of high gas prices and soaring energy needs, "We’ve got to start offshore drilling and do it now." The crowd responded with prolonged applause.

Acknowledging the concerns of NORPAC members for Israel’s safety, he took a hard line on Iran.

"He spoke about the dangers of Iran as a government that’s unstable and headed toward nuclear proliferation," Chouake said. "He clearly stated it’s a moral responsibility to stop a second Holocaust."

Although it was the sponsoring organization, NORPAC did not offer McCain its endorsement in the election. The bipartisan PAC will "act as a conduit" for any candidates with a proven record on Israel, Chouake said, although usually the group favors the incumbent. Since no incumbent exists in this election, NORPAC’s directive to its members is that they can stump for either candidate in NORPAC’s name.

"In this election, among our membership, the heavy favorite is John McCain," he said. "I’m not saying that’s the only option or that our members shouldn’t be engaged in the Obama campaign."

U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), a founding NORPAC member who is heavily involved in the Obama campaign, is working toward a NORPAC fund-raiser for his candidate. (See related story.)

"It really depends on the interest of the membership and how hard they work to make [an event] successful," Chouake said, noting that NORPAC typically holds more Democratic events in a year than Republican. "With John McCain, the interest was there."

Rabbi Menachem Genack, another of NORPAC’s founding members and a Democratic Party insider, attended the roundtable as Chouake’s guest. While he agrees with McCain on some issues and disagrees with him on others, it was Lieberman’s presence that drew him.

"You can see the tremendous respect that Sen. McCain has for Sen. Lieberman," the Englewood rabbi and Orthodox Union’s kashrut division administrator and CEO said. "That’s why I’m convinced he would play an important role if McCain is elected president."

Genack particularly disagrees with McCain on the senator’s position against a higher gas tax. He praised him, however, for taking "a principled stand" against subsidies for ethanol, the production of which Genack said has raised food prices across the board.

False images of both candidates have emerged in the election, said Genack, who was to be a delegate to this year’s Democratic National Convention but recently withdrew because of a scheduling conflict.

"There are two lies in this campaign," he said. "One is that Obama is a Muslim who studied in a madrassa. The other is that McCain is George Bush. He is not."

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