In his quest for the presidency, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois has named Rep. Steve Rothman the Northeast regional co-chair of the freshman senator’s campaign for the Democratic nomination.
Rothman, a six-term Democrat from New Jersey’s ninth district, will be involved in policy development, outreach, fund-raising, and speaking on Obama’s behalf in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
"I am honored to have the support of Cong. Rothman and proud to have him represent the Obama campaign in the Northeast," Obama said in a statement. "Cong. Rothman has been a dedicated fighter for justice and equality for New Jersey and a leader in efforts to bring the war in Iraq to an end."
Obama is one of eight candidates seeking the Democratic nomination. According to recent polls, Sen. Hillary Clinton remains the favorite for the nomination, while Obama ranks second. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, appearing on "Fox News Sunday" this week, predicted a Clinton-Obama Democratic ticket in ‘008. If Obama wins either the presidency or vice presidency, Rothman could be in line for a prominent role in a future administration. For now, though, the representative said, his only goal is to get Obama into the Oval Office, and not to earn himself a place on Obama’s staff.
"Clearly if Sen. Obama becomes president of the United States, [the fact] that the congressman from the ninth district supported him early on might be remembered," Rothman told The Jewish Standard last Friday. "But I didn’t endorse him in hopes of any particular position in his administration."
Although Obama is relatively new to Washington, Rothman thinks he has a fresh perspective on government policies that makes him the most viable candidate.
"He has the audacity to think outside the very constrained Washington mentality that unfortunately has resulted in domestic and foreign policies that refuse to engage our adversaries in the world, have offended and distanced nations that would otherwise be much friendlier with the United States, and otherwise divided our own nation unnecessarily."
As the Standard reported in March, Norpac, the Israel political action committee based in Englewood, has had little to say about Obama because the first-term senator lacks a long voting record on Israel and is geographically isolated from the bulk of the group’s 4,000 members on the East Coast. The organization itself has not endorsed any contenders in the presidential primaries, although its members have individually raised money in Norpac’s name for several candidates from both parties. To date, Obama has not been one of those candidates.
"People are going to pick their favorites," said Norpac’s president, Dr. Ben Chouake, on Tuesday. "Obama’s somebody we might have gotten involved with if one of our members knew him extremely well. As long as somebody has an acceptable record on U.S.-Israel relations we’re open to that."
Chouake noted that Obama so far has been "a reliable vote" in the Senate. In May, Obama and Sen. Sam Brownback, a potential Republican presidential candidate from Kansas, introduced the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of ‘007, which encourages U.S. companies to divest from Iran. The bill, which passed the House by a vote of 408-6 last month, remains in committee in the Senate.
"These members of Congress and the others who voted for this legislation understand the existential threat Iran poses to the whole world, in addition to the U.S. and Israel," Chouake said.
However, Chouake refrained from making a solid endorsement of Obama’s stance on Israel until the senator has spent more time in Washington.
Rothman, conversely, has received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions in Norpac’s name and has earned the respect of the organization’s leadership as a supporter of strong U.S.-Israel relations.
Rothman’s record on Israel includes co-sponsoring a bill the House passed in June to try Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad under the Geneva Convention’s anti-genocide provision; the ‘005 U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperation Act, which passed the House in July; and a ‘005 resolution against the perceived United Nations bias against Israel. This week, the House Appropriations Committee, which Rothman serves on, approved $’6 million in federal funding for the Arrow System Improvement Program, a missile defense system the U.S. is developing with Israel.
Rothman "believes Obama will be fine on that core issue and I’m glad that he feels that way," Chouake said. "That’s actually comforting, because he knows [Obama] better than I do."
Recognizing Israel’s importance to voters in the tri-state area, Rothman assured the Standard that Obama’s stance is in line with his own.
"He knows of my lifelong activities in support of a very strong and secure Israel that remains a trusted and much-needed friend of the United States," Rothman said. "He shares my views on Israel and has pledged to make sure that Israel remains secure and that the unique but critical relationship that Israel has with the United States continues to be robust and unquestioned."
But Obama did not choose him just because of his pro-Israel stance, Rothman said, even though the choice could be seen as boosting the senator in this region. "They were also interested in me as a person who has held elected office in New Jersey for ‘0 years, including over a decade as a U.S. congressman," Rothman said. Before joining the House in 1997, Rothman was mayor of Englewood from 1983 to 1989. He also chaired the United Jewish Community of Bergen County’s Jewish Community Relations Council from 1990 until 199’.
"They want me to reach out to the entire community, not just the pro-Israel community," he said, "to share my insights on Sen. Obama and to help him achieve victory in the primary and then in November of ‘008."