WASHINGTON, D.C. — Controversy brewing over one of Bob Dole's potential running mates could squelch the Republican presidential candidate's overtures to American Jews before they reach full steam.
If Dole chooses former South Carolina Gov. Carroll Campbell Jr. as his running mate at the GOP Convention in San Diego this weekend, charges of anti-Semitism and dirty politics are likely to stain the Dole ticket.
Campbell, Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) and an unidentified candidate are on Dole's short list for the vice presidential nomination, said Dole campaign officials.
Because of his age, 73, Dole's vice presidential pick is expected to garner extraordinarily close scrutiny.
As a congressional candidate for South Carolina's 4th District, Campbell, a close adviser to Dole, commissioned a poll in 1978 that has been widely condemned for highlighting his Democratic opponent's Jewish roots and beliefs.
Campbell, who has defended the poll, has since developed strong ties to the Jewish community both as a congressman and governor.
Yet Dole campaign officials say the Jewish vote could prove critical to winning key states in November if the race tightens, no matter who joins the GOP ticket.
"Bob Dole cannot win in November unless he makes significant inroads into President Clinton's Jewish support at the polls," said a Dole official who asked not to be named.
Jewish Republicans privately acknowledge that Campbell's past would be a temporary setback to their outreach. But they point to his warm relations with the state's Jewish community as proof that he is someone American Jews can support.
Others charged dirty politics.
"This is a 20-year-old story that would take one day to silence," one Republican Jewish activist charged.
Highlighting potential concern over Campbell's past, Dole campaign officials took an affidavit Tuesday from a key figure in the 1978 race.
It comes as questions linger whether Campbell tried to exploit his opponent's religion in a hotly contested congressional race.
At issue is a poll Campbell commissioned from pollster Arthur Finkelstein, whose name resurfaced lately when he worked for Benjamin Netanyahu's successful campaign for prime minister in Israel.
The survey asked voters to choose from six characteristics that best describe Campbell and his opponent, Greenville Mayor Max Heller, an Austrian-born Jew.
The following characteristics were listed: honest, a Christian man, concern for people, a hard worker, experienced in government, Jewish.
Another question asked which personal qualities would make the respondent more or less likely to vote for which candidate. The list of 15 qualities included "a Jewish immigrant" or "a native South Carolinian."
Campbell was rumored to have shared information from the poll with a third-party candidate, who then attacked Heller because he did not "believe Jesus Christ has come yet."
Heller, who had held a commanding lead in the race, narrowly lost to Campbell.
Campbell denounced the remarks of the third-party candidate, Don Sprouse, at the time, according to news reports of the 1978 campaign.
In an affidavit this week, initiated by the Dole campaign, Sprouse denied reported coordination with the Campbell campaign to attack Heller.
But when the survey was released years later, Campbell reportedly defended the questions as legitimate, in part because Heller spoke during the campaign of his experiences fleeing the Nazis to come to the United States.
A spokesman for Campbell, in an interview this week, sought to clarify what happened in South Carolina 18 years ago.
"This whole incident has been characterized as an attempt to inject vicious and nasty elements in the campaign," said Kenneth Vest, Campbell's spokesman.
In fact, he added, Campbell "believes that Finkelstein was trying to find out how Heller's story resonated with the voters of the district."
The controversial poll was not released until 1986, after Alan Baron, a Democratic analyst who is Jewish, raised the issue in a 1983 newsletter that explored the boundaries of race and ethnicity in political polling.
Baron wrote that Finkelstein, Campbell's pollster who is also Jewish, had surveyed voters to "determine the impact on voters of information that Heller was (1) a Jew; (2) a foreign-born Jew; and (3) a foreign-born Jew who did not believe in Jesus Christ as the Savior."
Baron quoted Finkelstein as saying that while the first two pieces of information would not sway the electorate, he believed that Campbell would win if voters knew that Heller did not believe in Jesus.
Campbell denounced the Baron account of the poll as "inaccurate" and "outrageously wrong," according to news reports at the time.
Pollsters interviewed this week roundly condemned the approach.
The questions "go below the line of decency," said a Republican pollster who asked not to be named.
At the time of the campaign, Heller also charged that Campbell raised the question of whether he would have a dual loyalty to Israel if elected to Congress.
In a speech in August of 1978, Campbell said, "I believe that it is imperative that a congressman be objective in foreign policy and have absolutely no favorite nation in the free world but America."
Heller charged that the combination of free world and favorite nation was a thinly veiled reference to Israel.
Campbell could also face renewed questions about his decision as a freshman lawmaker to speak to the notoriously anti-Semitic Liberty Lobby.
Campbell has strengthened his ties to the Jewish community in recent years. As a member of Congress from 1978 to 1986, he co-sponsored legislation to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
As governor from 1987 to 1995, Campbell founded the South Carolina-Israel Exchange to strengthen trade with the Jewish state. Campbell also led a delegation to Israel in the early 1990s.
But Democrats are anxious to attack a Dole-Campbell ticket.
"Carroll Campbell used a patently anti-Semitic tactic to start his political career," said Steve Rabinowitz, a Democratic media consultant who has worked in the Clinton White House.
"If Bob Dole can live with that, my guess is that the overwhelming number of American Jews cannot."
However, Campbell's spokesman said the potential Dole mate should be judged on his record and support among voters and " a substantial number"of Jews.
Jewish Republicans say Dole needs Jews who in 1992 backed Clinton in pivotal states such as Michigan, New Jersey, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania.