It’s Almost Over: McCain and Obama Hunt the Elusive Jewish Swing Voter

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

James Besser in Washington

In the closing days of a  presidential election that seems to have dragged on for years, maybe decades, the fight for Jewish votes has gotten even nastier.

There was the flap in Pennsylvania last week, when a Republican official was apparently fired when he sent an email suggesting that a Barack Obama victory could lead to a new Holocaust; there is the continuing spat over Rashid Khalidi, the Columbia University professor and Israel critic who spoke at a dinner Obama attended – proof, some Republicans say, of Obama’s unreliability on Israel, even though McCain chaired a board that once gave money to a group Khalidi helped found.

The real question is, will claims and attacks about the candidates’ pro-Israel  credentials make any real difference next Tuesday?

The short answer is, probably not. According to the recent Gallup poll, the overwhelming majority of Jewish voters have made up their minds.  In that survey, the Jewish undecideds were down to 4 percent.

Some of that 4 percent may be the group targeted by the McCain campaign all along: Jews who remain closer to the Democrats on domestic issues but who can be drawn to the GOP when they think a candidate is a threat to Israel.

But that’s still a very small minority of a very small electoral minority.  And reporting from around the country and analysis of recent polls indicates that the sinking economy and the Sarah Palin nomination are having a much bigger impact on Jewish swing voters than attacks on Obama’s pro-Israel record.

The unchanging reality of the election is this: the Jewish vote will make a real difference on Tuesday only if the overall tally  is extraordinarily close, and only if Florida turns out to be as critical as it was in 2000.

This week conservative commentator David Horowitz urged the McCain campaign to focus heavily on Jewish voters in key states in the final hours of the campaign, but the data and anecdotal reports from the campaigns suggest there just aren’t enough Jewish votes in play in states likely to be critical on Tuesday.

How do the experts handicap the race for Jewish votes now?

Last week I asked a sample of political scientists for their guesses. Political scientists claim objectivity, but most have discernible political leanings. This sample, while hardly scientific, included those leaning in both directions.

And the answers were remarkably uniform.  John McCain will get between 25 and 30 percent of the Jewish vote on Tuesday, they predicted.

The top of that range represents a modest but significant increase from George W. Bush’s 25 percent in 2004; that, combined with new data showing that younger Jews are slowly becoming more conservative than their elders, will be enough to keep Jewish Republicans hopeful for the next election cycle.

But more and more, it’s looking like 2008 won’t  include the seismic shift in Jewish voting that some were predicting six months ago.

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.