It’s a little early for Barack Obama’s campaign to breath a sigh of relief and say a few Amens, but two new polls of Jewish voters offer some good news for the Democratic presidential nominee.
An analysis by Gallup based on its daily tracking poll and interviews with more than 500 Jewish voters shows that Jewish voters have grown much more comfortable with Obama.
It found that 74 percent of Jewish voters now support Obama. That’s a tad lower than what exit polls showed John Kerry and Al Gore won in 2004 and 2000, but it’s shows huge gains for Obama in the last few months.
A Quinnipiac University poll of 1,433 Florida voters shows Obama leading Republican John McCain by a 77 percent to 20 percent margin among Jewish voters included in a survey.
One note of caution in the Q-Poll numbers – the Jewish sample survey carries a whopping 10.5 percent margin of error because of the small sample of Jews in the larger survey, which had a 2.6 percent margin of error. Given their methodology, Quinnipiac pollsters, however, believe the number is probably pretty close to accurate despite the large potential margin of error.
Jewish support for Obama has risen gradually from the low 60 percent range in June and July to 66 percent in August, 69 percent in September, and now 74 percent, according to Gallup.
With just under two weeks until the Nov. 4 election, “The current proportion of U.S. Jews backing Obama is identical to the level of support the Democratic ticket of John Kerry and John Edwards received in the 2004 presidential election (74%),” and “It is only slightly lower than what Al Gore and Joe Lieberman received in 2000 (80%) – when the first Jewish American appeared on the presidential ticket of a major party,” according to Gallup.
And while there has been much concern about a generational divide and the potential of bigotry that could keep some older Jews from supporting Obama, or cause them to vote for Republican John McCain, Gallup reports that “support for Obama is a bit higher among older Jews than among Jews younger than 55.”
Dennis Ross, the former Middle East envoy, has been spending a lot of time on the road and in synagogues these days.
Since joining joining Barack Obama on a Middle East trip and then publicly coming out in support of the Democratic presidential nominee, Ross has been on a tour of the Jewish community in battleground states.
On Sunday, he stumped for the Democratic nominee in Tampa and then Parkland, Florida.
While imparting the reasons he’s supporting Obama, Ross, looking around at Congregation Kol Tikvah’s new shul in Parkland, Broward County, noted how he’s also gleaned some valuable insights of his own.
“I have shul building envy,” Ross told about 75 people seated in the building that opened earlier this year.
Ross explained that he’s co-chair of the capital campaign at Kol Shalom, a seven-year-old Conservative egalitarian congregation in Maryland that is raising money to construct a synagogue.
His timing couldn’t be worse to be chair of a campaign hitting up donors, Ross said in a reference to the global financial meltdown.
With three weeks to go until Election Day, Barack Obama’s campaign seems to be betting the kibbutz on three states: Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
“Those three are the three swing states with the largest Jewish population that really has the most likely chance of affecting the outcome,” Dan Shapiro, Obama’s national Jewish outreach coordinator told the Forward Sunday night.
With three weeks until Election Day, Barack Obama’s top Jewish outreach coordinators are taking up residence in Ohio and Florida, while the campaign has added staff to its Jewish outreach efforts in Pennsylvania and Virginia.
“I’m spending two of the next three weeks in Ohio as an indicator of how we’re deploying our resources,” Shapiro said before a rally near Cleveland at the Landerhaven banquet hall headlined by Dennis Ross, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, U.S. Rep. Jane Harman of California and Alan Solow, a Chicago Jewish leader and a longtime Obama friend.
While Shapiro will be based in Ohio, but will continue to travel to Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Chicago and Washington, D.C., Eric Lynn, Obama’s national Jewish vote director will be in Florida, where another staffer was also recently added.
Democrats also have a dedicated state staffer in Ohio for Jewish outreach and several people devoting significant time around Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati.
Shapiro allowed that the the Jewish vote could still play a critical role in Nevada or Colorado, two other battlegrounds Democrats hope to win.
Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida – all key traditional presidential battlegrounds and all traditional battlegrounds for the Jewish vote will likely be critical once again in this year’s contest between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.
Two other states to watch though will be Virginia, where 1.3 percent of the population is Jewish, and Colorado, where 1.7 percent of the population is Jewish, Matt Berger of MSNBC/National Journal predicted on a conference call organized by the United Jewish Communities to discuss the election.
Critical to the election will be what Berger called the “Lieberman Democrats,” those voters like Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, who place a premium on security issues. They may be wary of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s lack of experience, he said.
Younger Jewish voters, who are trending conservative in their votes and more open to supporting Republicans, are another critical demographic.
Finally, “Schlepers,” the elderly vote in Florida will be critical as usual in that state, Berger said. Many of these traditionally Democratic voters supported President Bush in 2004 and are looking for a reason to vote for Obama. Yet they remain hesitant to support him.
“They want a reason to vote Democratic and they are wary about Obama,” Berger said. “They need to be convinced that it is OK to vote Obama.” Jewish Democratic leaders have predicted that Obama will do as well or better than 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry did. But Berger was skeptical that Obama will draw the 75 percent of Jewish support that exit polls showed voted for Kerry.
Hoping to make up ground in a key battleground state, Democrats are sending in some of their big guns to court the Jewish vote.
New York Senator Chuck Schumer will pinch hit for Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama in the Sunshine state this weeend.
Schumer, architect of the Democrats’ gains in the Senate, will speak with voters at the Turnberry Jewish Center in Aventura, Temple Solel in Hollywood and Temple Beth Shalom in Century Village in Boca Raton on Sunday, Sept. 7.
Republican John McCain has stronger than usual support for a GOP candidate in part because of concerns about Obama among Jewish voters. Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman has also provided a critical boost for McCain among Jewish voters.
A panel discussion on the issues that matter to Jewish voters and which way they’ll vote in this year’s presidential election quickly descended into a harsh criticism of the lack of understanding of the challenges Barack Obama faces winning over the “condo” vote of older South Florida voters, a potentially key group in a battleground state.
“We need to recognize that there is a problem,” said State Sen. Steven Geller, the Florida state Senate minority leader.
Geller and his colleague, state Senator Nan H. Rich, told a crowd of about 150 people attending a discussion the National Jewish Democratic Council organized of a hostile environment in which a mob mentality has taken hold. The problem is primarily among older residents living in condominium communities and more religious voters in Broward, Dade and south Palm Beach counties, where most of the region’s Jewish population lives.
Interpretations that Obama’s struggles to win over Jewish voters is due to Jewish support for Republican John McCain ignore what they described as an anti-Obama reality on the ground.
Rep. Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat and key early Obama backer, “has almost been attacked” in strongholds of his South Florida district, Geller said.
Rich told a similar story of Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey being verbally assaulted when he came down to promote Obama.
“He walked away shocked,” said Rich, who faults misinformation campaigns by groups such as the Republican Jewish Council and debunked rumors spread via the Internet about Obama being Muslim, not saluting the American flag or being anti-Israel.
Supporters of Barack Obama readily acknowledge a lingering reluctance among many Jewish voters to embrace the presumptive nominee. The campaign has recently stepped up its outreach to Jewish voters and the Jewish community at large, including naming long-time adviser Daniel Shapiro to a formal role in the Obama campaign.
Jewish and political leaders say the effort to win over voters has proven particularly difficult in South Florida.
But could the solution to Obama’s problem be as simple as noshing on a bagel and lox?
Maybe, says U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who has been tapped by the Obama campaign to speak with Jewish leadership councils in Florida and addressed the Denver-area council over the weekend.
“He just has a learning curve with our voters, which he’s going to rapidly close when we bring him down and take him around for some bagels and cream cheese in the condos,” Wasserman Schultz said Sunday during a National Jewish Democratic Council reception outside the Golda Meir House in Denver.
Senior citizens and South Floridians are beginning to embrace Obama because they understand that beyond the issue of Israel Republican John McCain is not in sync with Jewish voters on domestic and social issues, she contends.
Other Jewish leaders, though, say the Obama campaign’s outreach efforts have been hampered because most of the Illinois senator’s Jewish surrogates are more liberal or progressive.
“He needs a Joe Lieberman type,” said Rabbi Marc Schneier, referring to the Connecticut Democratic senator turned Independent who has been supporting McCain. Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic nominee for vice president, remains a popular figure with many Conservative and Orthodox Jews.
Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and a past president of the North American Board of Rabbis, says it’s critical for Obama to have more conservative surrogates if he is going to be able to acquire wider support within the Jewish community.
“You cannot ignore those and the standing of the orthodox Jewish community,” he said.