Huckabee v. Obama and the (divided) Jewish vote

 Over at his Spiritual Politics blog, Professor Mark Silk looks at the unannounced candidacy of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

“Amidst all the hand-wringing about the state of the Republican presidential field, one potential candidate seems to be sailing blithely along–undeclared, familiar, discounted, and atop the polls,” Silk writes. “It’s Mike Huckabee, of course.”

It’s far too early to handicap the 2012 presidential race, especially in the current overheated political environment, but it strikes me Huck – not officially in the race, but making all the right noises – is pretty well positioned in a chaotic GOP field.

If Huckabee does get the nomination, it could provide the best illustration yet of the big and still growing gap between single-issue pro-Israel voters and a broader Jewish electorate that sees Israel as only one of a long list of important issues and whose focus tends to be domestic.

Huckabee’s outspoken support for Likud positions, his insistence that the Palestinians can have a state but not in Palestine and his apparent support for ongoing Jewish settlement in the West Bank will galvanize the Jewish right – and undoubtedly generate anti-Obama rhetoric that will make the 2008 campaign look tame.

But Huckabee’s identification with the domestic agenda of the religious right in this country will likely make him anathema to most multi-issue Jewish voters – a much bigger segment of the Jewish electorate.

The liberal majority is much bigger, but the right, with its pinpoint focus on Israel, may be more energized by this election.

It would take something on the order of a miracle for Huckabee to surpass Ronald Reagan’s 39 percent of the Jewish vote in 1980, but an energetic turnout from the Jewish right for Huckabee and an anemic one for Obama from Jewish liberals who are disappointed with President Obama’s performance could see the GOP candidate do significantly better than 2008 nominee John McCain, who won about 22 percent.

On the other hand, if Huckabee runs hard to the right in the GOP primaries to snag the critical evangelical bloc, that could energize the liberal-leaning majority to turn out in force for Obama.

In short, an Obama-Huckabee race just might turn out Jewish voters in record numbers.

Speaking of gaps, I’m wondering about the impact of an Obama deficit reduction plan, announced in a speech today, that includes tax increases for more affluent Americans.

Jewish liberals have no problem with phasing out the big tax cuts for wealthier Americans, but Jewish mega-givers – the folks who keep the communal infrastructure afloat, and who have benefited handsomely from Bush-era tax cuts – may not be so enthusiastic.

As the debate over competing deficit reduction plans gets into high gear, will we see mounting tensions between rank-and-file activists, who may tend to favor the Obama plan, and top lay leaders, who may line up behind the Republicans?

Stay tuned; it’s going to be a lively year in the Jewish world.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.