McCain, Obama and the Wright Factor

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

James Besser in Washington

Over the weekend the blogosphere was filled with speculation about this question: would Sen. John McCain now be leading Sen Barack Obama if he had more actively raised the issue of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the Democratic nominee’s former pastor?

Opinion is divided, with many analysts saying that  the issue of the sinking economy would still trump all others,  but one question has not been actively raised: what about the Jewish community?

Jews, after all, could be expected to be the most sensitive to Wright’s brand of offensive rhetoric, his connections to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and his harsh views about Israel. Early on, it was the Wright issue that Jewish Republicans believed was their ace in the hole with Jewish voters.

But it could also be that Jewish voters are like others in an electorate rattled by sinking markets, tottering banks and the prospect of a long, grinding economic downturn.

Kean University political scientist Gilbert Kahn said a more aggressive use of the Wright issue may have had an impact with some Jewish voters – but it probably wouldn’t have been a game changer.

“It might have meant an additional 2-5 percent” of the Jewish vote for McCain, Kahn said.

But the economic crisis has swept other issues off the table for Jews as well as for the general electorate, he said.

He said the Wright issue might have had the greatest impact during the High Holidays – when Jews congregate more than usual. But that’s when the economic news was beginning to overwhelm every other issue, he said,  so its impact might have been blunted.

The economic crisis, if it continues, could  also shove the  “culture wars” issues off the table in the wake of the 2008 election. That was the gist of an interesting  Washington Post op-ed by Peter Beinart, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (read it here). Beinart draws a comparison to the Great Depression.  That economic calamity swept aside an earlier culture wars surge as  people turned to more immediate and practical issues, like feeding their families; the same thing could happen now as Americans shift their attention to more pressing and immediate matters than gay marriage and abortion.

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.