Bernie Sanders won the Democratic primary in New Hampshire on Tuesday, becoming the first Jewish candidate in history to win a presidential primary. The Vermont Senator made history when he defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, also becoming the first non-Christian to win a primary.
This news comes nine days after the self-described democratic socialist achieved a smaller milestone when he became the first Jewish candidate to ever win delegates, finishing in second place in the Iowa caucuses. This also comes eight days after Ted Cruz won the GOP Iowa caucuses to become the first Hispanic-American to win a presidential primary. Billionaire businessman and candidate Donald Trump won the GOP race in New Hampshire with 35 percent of the vote, more than twice that of the second-place winner, Ohio Governor John Kasich, at 16 percent.
Sanders rarely speaks about his religious faith and, thus far, has not mentioned it all unprompted during his campaign. However, he was quoted by the Hill as saying it is a driving force in his life.
“It’s a guiding principle in my life, absolutely, it is,” Sanders said. “I would not be running for president of the United States if I did not have very strong religious and spiritual feelings.”
Sanders was raised by Jewish parents and says he does believe in God, although he does not participate in organized religion. USA Today also quoted him as making a rare statement about his religious belief in September 2015.
“I believe that there is a connection between all living things, and that my belief in God requires me to do all that I can to follow the ‘Golden Rule,’ to do unto others and as I would have them do unto me,” Sanders said when Pope Francis visited Washington D.C. “As a public servant, it requires me to do all that I can to ensure that every person lives with dignity and security.”
Sanders’ victory is a major blow to Clinton, who won Iowa by half a percentage point, although she still maintains a strong lead in many other states. Oddly, once upon a time in the 20th century, the prospect of a Jewish presidential candidate was completely unthinkable, as New York Magazine reports.
“A 1948 survey by the American Jewish Committee found nearly half of Americans associated Jews with Soviet spying, while 21 percent believed that ‘most Jews are Communists.’ Of the 124 people questioned by Joseph McCarthy’s Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in 1952, 79 were Jews, according to a 2008 study by historian Aviva Weingarten.”
Shortly after winning the primary in New Hampshire, Sanders gave a speech that stepped up his rhetoric against Wall Street and calling for a “political revolution” in the United States. Rabbi Robin Nafshi of Temple Beth Jacob in Concord, New Hampshire, told the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein that Sanders’ victory has sent a message about Judaism.
“It has provided real education to America about the fact that Jews come in all shapes and stripes,” Nafshi said. “That no, we are not all keeping kosher or observing the Sabbath — that the way American Jews live our lives is as diverse as any group of people, perhaps even more diverse. I think that’s one of the things that has been really quite educational with his candidacy.”
With the victory of Sanders and Trump for their respective parties, it’s become clear that the American public is gravitating toward unconventional candidates this election.
Sanders is not the first person of Jewish descent to run for President of the United States. Others include former Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter and former Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman, who both ran unsuccessfully in 1996 and 2004, respectively, but Sanders is the first Jewish candidate to actually win a state in a presidential primary.
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