US Jews turn to Obama

By Nathan Guttman, October 29, 2008

As the presidential campaign enters its final phase, Democrat contender Barack Obama is consolidating his lead with American Jewish voters in polls and reaching a 3:1 margin over his Republican rival John McCain.

While this has become the golden standard for Democrat nominees, Mr Obama has had to work harder than his predecessors to woo Jewish votes. A year ago he faced a massive negative campaign and was forced to fend off allegations that he was Muslim and held anti-Israeli views. Later, Mr Obama faced resentment based on the anti-Israeli rhetoric of his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

Yet according to the latest Gallup poll, Mr Obama now has a support level of 74 per cent, compared to only 22 per cent of US Jews who said they will vote for Mr McCain next week.

One reason seen for Mr Obama's increased support was the selection of Sarah Palin as Mr McCain's running mate. Ms Palin, says Ira Foreman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, impacted on the way Jewish voters saw Mr McCain. "His perceived moderation was hurt dramatically," said Mr Foreman. Ms Palin's conservative social views are at odds with the mainstream community.

Mr Obama may also owe part of his increase in popularity to extensive work done with Jewish voters in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Former ambassadors Dennis Ross and Daniel Kurtzer, together with Congressmen Robert Wexler, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and others, have vouched repeatedly for Mr Obama's pro-Israel credentials.

Both sides spent the last week of the campaign trying to win over undecided Jewish voters.

The Republican Jewish Coalition spent unprecedented funds on advertising in key states, portraying Mr Obama as weak on security because of his willingness to talk to Iran. "Concerned about Barack Obama's naïve foreign policy?" the TV ads ask rhetorically, as the answer appears on the screen: "You should be."

There are also several congressional races where Jewish candidates are expecting to win. Almost all Jewish incumbents are seen as safe with the only exception being Republican Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota, who is tied in a tough race - but his opponent, comedian-turned-radio personality Al Franken, is also Jewish.


Last updated: 5:01pm, October 29 2008