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Elections 2000: Jewish Vote Could Make, Break Candidates in a Number of States

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With a presidential race as close as this year’s contest, anything could swing the election.

Like other ethnic groups, Jewish observers believe the Jewish vote could be a decisive factor in picking a new president.

Several hotly contested states with large electoral votes also have large Jewish populations. Florida has one of the largest Jewish constituencies in the country (637,000 people), and the state’s 25 electoral votes are currently up for grabs.

Democratic pollster Mark Mellman said the race in Florida could decide the presidency, and it is a state where the Jewish vote is highly organized and is likely to favor Democrat Al Gore over Republican George W. Bush.

Many of the senior citizen communities in South Florida have a hierarchy of building captains and floor captains, who work to try and get out the coveted senior citizen vote in that state.

“There is a long-standing relationship with Al Gore and Jewish communities,” Mellman said.

And the presence of a Jewish vice presidential candidate may produce a larger turnout among senior citizens, he said. “Everywhere, it’s a question of how big is the margin and what is the turnout,” he said.

That is the case in Pennsylvania, where Jews are 2.4 percent of the population, and the candidates are neck and neck for 23 electoral votes.

Because Jews vote at a higher rate than some other ethnic groups, that adds to the weight of their coalition, Mellman said.

Ohio is another undecided state with a large number of electoral votes (21) and a substantial Jewish population (144,000 people).

But many other states with a large Jewish presence, including New York, New Jersey and California, are believed to be tilting toward Gore.

Another interesting state for Jewish voters to watch is Michigan, where the Bush campaign is courting that state’s substantial Arab American community.

Mellman said the concern over the Arab vote may bring more Jews to the polling place and increase support for Gore in that state.

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