Front-loaded Schedule, Tight Races Mean Jewish Votes Could Matter

Primary season has traditionally been a spectator sport for Jewish voters (as opposed to big-time Jewish political donors), thanks to an electoral schedule that has historically favored states with tiny Jewish communities.

In 2004, for example, by the time a state with more than 100,000 Jews held a primary, Howard Dean was long gone, John Edwards was on his last legs and John Kerry had essentially locked up the Democratic nomination.

This election cycle, as the nation readies for the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3 and the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 8, it appears as if the Jewish vote could play a role in deciding the Democratic nomination. That’s because this time around many big states have pushed up their primaries and polls show a tight Democratic race.

The Republican picture is even tighter and more complicated. But with the bulk of Jews identifying as Democrats, the question is whether Edwards and U.S. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-IIl.) will still be battling come Super Tuesday on Feb. 5, when primaries will be held in 23 states with about two-thirds of the country’s Jewish population.

Just six states are voting ahead of Super Tuesday this year — compared to 14 states in 2004 — which means fewer chances for the race to be wrapped up before Super Tuesday. And with polls showing a tough three-way race in Iowa, and Obama and Clinton neck-and-neck in New Hampshire and the Jan. 26 South Carolina primary, it will be difficult for any of the top three Democrats to knock out the other two before the overwhelming majority of American Jews get to vote.

Assuming the race is still on coming out of South Carolina, the nation could once again end up turning its collective eye to Jewish voters in South Florida. The Sunshine State — boasting the third largest Jewish population, behind New York and California — is poised to provide a major momentum boost, as the only state scheduled to hold a primary on Jan. 29 and the last to vote before Super Tuesday a week later.

In addition to New York and California, Feb. 5 will feature primaries in several other states with sizeable Jewish populations, including New Jersey, Illinois, Georgia, Connecticut and Arizona.

A recent American Jewish Committee phone survey of 1,000 Jewish Americans found that Clinton was rated favorably by 53 percent of American Jews, with Republican candidate Rudy Giuliani finishing second at 41 percent, ahead of the rest of the Democratic field.

The survey, with a marging of error of 3 percent, found that among Jewish Democrats, Clinton scored a 70 percent favorable rating, compared to 48 percent for Edwards and 45 percent for Obama.

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