Democrats in Denver Discuss the Jewish Vote

On Monday afternoon, I was part of a panel on the Jewish vote in 2008 at the Democratic National Convention. The panel was sponsored by the National Jewish Democratic Council and its not for-profit-arm, the Solomon Project. Two partisan Democratic pollsters, Mark Mellman and Anna Greenberg were on the panel, along with Stuart Rothenberg, who calls it down the middle with his political reports.

The panel on the Jewish vote reflected the fractionalization of America evident at the DNC. Other panels being held down the hall included: the rural vote, the Hispanic vote, the senior vote, and the First American vote.  Undoubtedly, the African American vote, the women's vote, the labor vote, and other such partitioned constituencies had their own conclaves. When I was at the airport awaiting my flight home, the TV was tuned to CNN, which kept flashing the percentages of delegates who were gay, or Native American, or Hispanic.  Obviously, this information was supplied to the media by Democratic Party officials, who keep track of the number of delegates by groups, data integral to the Party's complex diversity rules regarding delegate selection.

It is not at all clear to me that the Democrats' obsession with diversity and appealing to subgroups will be a winning strategy.  There is an unhyphenated American identity that seems to be lost on the Democratic Party and the Obama campaign team. In the recently completed Olympic games, no one divided the US medalists, or team members into various ethnic, racial or religious groups, and Americans rooted for Americans, not hyphenated Americans.  American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan know there is only one team and that each soldier must have his comrade's back.

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The speakers on my panel offered very encouraging news, if you are a supporter of John McCain this year. Barack Obama is significantly underperforming John Kerry's 2004 numbers in the Jewish community.  According to Mark Mellman, this is in part, because Obama is underperforming with pretty much every group of white voters compared to Kerry's numbers, except for the youngest voters.  In the Jewish community Obama is currently polling in the range of 60-62%, down from 76% for Kerry in 2004. Almost all the rest goes for McCain (a small percentage are undecided).

I argued that Obama's weak performance in the Jewish community was in part due to the fact that John McCain was the GOP nominee, and McCain was more broadly acceptable, respected, and admired in the Jewish community than George Bush was either time he ran.  But Obama clearly has problems in the community, in part due to his newness on the scene, his meteoric political rise, and the lack of an established record on US-Israel relations, compared to McCain or Hillary Clinton.

But I also stated that the controversy surrounding Reverend Jeremiah Wright, in particular his rants about Israel and his connection to Louis Farrakhan, had damaged Obama's appeal to some Jewish voters. This is especially the case since the Wright controversy was the introduction to Obama for many voters.  Some Florida state legislators  in the room argued vociferously that Obama's problems in the Jewish community in South Florida, and especially among older voters, were all about the voters' feelings  about Obama and not because Jews were attracted to McCain

While there may be a specific issue among the elderly Jewish voters in the three South Florida counties, the polling so far this year suggests that the drop-off in support for Obama compared to Kerry is not all about Obama. In a Gallup survey in April and May, Hillary Clinton  was ahead of McCain among Jewish voters by 39% and Obama led McCain  by 29%.  Since John Kerry won the Jewish vote by 52% in 2004, Clinton underperformed against McCain by 13% compared to John Kerry, and Obama by 23%.  So to argue that John McCain as the GOP nominee is not a contributing factor for Obama underperforming is clearly wrong.  Clinton was very well regarded in the Jewish community, probably more so than John Kerry.  McCain as the nominee instead of Bush has to be the reason for the 13% drop-off in the Clinton numbers versus Kerry's. 

One more reason why McCain may be doing relatively well among Jewish voters and Obama less so, is McCain's focus on foreign affairs. Jewish voters, and in particular older Jewish voters (many of whom lived through the Holocaust and Israel's many wars),  may be more concerned about the current threats to Israel than about issues that seemed to be the focus of the NJDC audience. 

The topics the audience wanted to discuss, in order of importance were: abortion rights, reproductive freedom, and support for Roe v Wade. The word Iran was not mentioned on my panel, except by me, and when Israel came up, it was almost with annoyance -- that Jews need to be more concerned with other issues on the progressive agenda, and not just Israel.

Some audience members were hopeful that Joe Biden would improve Barack Obama's standing in the Jewish community, both among older voters, and in key states, such as Florida and Pennsylvania.  So far, the Biden pick appears to have fallen flat among the voting public.  Rasmussen's survey for the three days since the Biden pick was made, now show the race tied, a drop off for Obama who had led by 1-2 points.   Gallup's tracking poll now shows McCain with his first lead in months, 2%, after Obama led by small margins last week.

This is clearly not the initial VP selection bounce the Obama team might have hoped for. How much of the weakness is due to disappointment among female voters, especially Hillary supporters,  is not yet clear. I still expect a decent bounce for Obama by the end of the week -- the Berlin speech gave a big boost to Obama's numbers, and Thursday night's outdoor acceptance speech at Invesco Field will likely do the same.

But, as with prior Obama polling surges, this one may not last, followed as it will be in short order by McCain's VP announcement and the GOP convention.

Richard Baehr is chief poltiical correspondent of American Thinker.