Kennedy's sweep in New York: more 'anti-Carter'

South Bronx and Brooklyn Hispanic voters embraced senator Kennedy. Blue-collar union workers rallied to him. White suburbanites across the state cast their votes against inflation -- and for him. And Jewish voters flocked to him because of President Carter's controversial UN vote against Israel.

In scoring a sweeping victory in the New York State Democratic primary March 25, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy carried all five New York City boroughs and the surrounding suburban countries by a landslide, losing only upstate New York, a traditional conservative bastion.

The Massachusetts senator put together an unexpected "traditional Democratic coalition" of minority, blue-collar, and wealthier liberal voters at a time when all the polls showed Mr. Carter with the clear edge.

But it was definitely an "anti-carter" and not a "pro-Kennedy" victory, according to political analysts and voters interviewed by the Monitor.

If the primary had been held just a few days earlier, the forecast Carter lead might have borne out. A Harris poll just before the election showed the President with a commanding lead over Senator Kennedy, 56 percent to 36 percent -- but down from 61 percent for Mr. Carter and 34 percent for Mr. Kennedy the week before.

The Harris polls also showed a growing number of undecided voters. Many of these were Jews, whose angry reaction to the US vote in the United Nations against Israel eventually -- and almost literally at the 11th hour, according to many analysts -- hardened into support for Senator Kennedy.

But nearly 4-to-1 Jewish vote statewide for the senator was by no means the decisive factor in his smashing victory.

One registered Democrat from Manhattan's fashionable Upper West Side seemed to sum up the Kennedy landslide here "as a message to President Carter that he's doing an awful job in the White House." She, like thousands of others in the Empire State, cast her vote for Senator Kennedy as a protest against Mr. Carter. An ABC-TV poll of voters showed that New Yorkers were fed up with the President's efforts to fight inflation, solve the hostage crisis in Iran, and convince the public that his administration had legitimately made a "mistake" when it cast its vote against Israel in the UN.

Kennedy win, moreover, was the result of the Senator's own campaign blitz, which saw him out seeking votes 20 hours a day, day in and day out, while President Carter stayed in the White House and left personal voter contact to surrogates. The Kennedy clan's famous "charisma" was put into full play in the last days of the race here, despite the fact that most analysts had written the senator off as a loser -- and a big one at that.

But the key issue cutting across racial and economic boundaries, and even overshadowing Mr. Kennedy's personal appeal, was inflation. An ABC News survey found voters believed Senator Kennedy, who has called for wage and price controls, was more capable than President Carter of curbing inflation, by a margin of 76 percent to 18 percent -- or about 4 to 1.

"The issues are finally prevailing over questions about Kennedy's personal morality," noted one longtime Kennedy supporter.

While inflation undoubtedly will remain a major liability for the President in the coming primaries, here in New York there were other circumstances that worked to Senator Kennedy's advantage. Chief among these, apart from the large Jewish vote, was the President's proposed urban aid cutbacks.Some analysts say these proposals are largely responsible for the senator's stellar showing among Hispanics; one poll showed they voted 2 to 1 for him.

Despite strong endorsements of President Carter by top black elected officials, a New York Times-CBS News survey showed that blacks voted for Mr. Kennedy by a 5-to-4 margin.

By region, the Democratic primary results showed Senator Kennedy defeating the President by almost 2 to 1 in both New York City and its suburbs and narrowly losing elsewhere.

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