"I don't think she has changed for people like me," he says. "I think she has changed because she has listened."
It's the kind of talk any New York politician would covet. The state's Jewish population may represent just 15 percent of the electorate, but they're more likely than other voters, by two to one, to cast a ballot. They're also big givers to campaignstwo-thirds of all Democratic donations came from Jewish sources last year. The value of the Jewish vote seems obvious to any politician, let alone a prospective presidential contender like Clinton. And her 20-point gain among Jewish voters over the past six years bodes well not only for her Senate re-election bid, but for possible campaigns down the road.
photo: Yeshiva University
Hillary Clinton receiving an honorary degree at Yeshiva University on December 11, 2005
But will her inroads among Jewish leaders translate with the average Jew on the street? In the Orthodox community, Hikind and others say, people still have a gut reaction to the Arafat kiss. And they still cannot understand why she'd be so popular. Just three weeks ago, Hikind went before a group of rabbis in Flatbush, Brooklyn. The first question he fielded? "Are you going to endorse Hillary Clinton?" he says.
Hikind said yes, stressing how great a friend she is. "In the very pro-Israel Jewish community," he says, "there are some people who hate the Clintons and nothing Hillary can do is right." The rest, she's working on.