A panel of pollsters and pundits at Monday’s National Jewish Democratic Council “Jewish Vote Seminar” agreed that Barack Obama is underperforming among Jewish voters compared to recent historical standards – just 61-62 percent in recent polls of Jewish voters, in contrast to the 75 percent and above that Democrats have won among Jews in the last four presidential elections. But while most commentary in recent months has attributed the difference to a variety of factors involving Obama – from not being well known enough in the Jewish community to e-mails spreading false rumors about his religious background – two members of the panel had a different explanation: Jews just like John McCain more than most other Republicans.
“McCain’s appeal is personal,” said Stuart Rothenberg, a columnist for Roll Call and editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report. “John McCain is not as scary to people as certain Republicans.” He added that he’d be surprised if there was any change in the Jewish vote in congressional races from 2006, where Democrats received 86 percent of Jewish support.
Richard Baehr, a writer for the conservative American Thinker Web site, agreed. “It’s more McCain being viewed positively than Obama being viewed negatively,” he said, noting that the Arizonan “doesn’t wear Christian conservatism on his sleeve.” Baehr also pointed out that Hillary Clinton was receiving just 66 percent in polls last spring, even though they were no questions about her among American Jews.
Their theory was vehemently disputed by South Florida Jewish Democrats in the audience as well as by Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg. “For the overall electorate, not just Jewish voters, this election is mostly a referendum about Barack Obama,” she said.
The way to combat Jewish affection of McCain, said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, is for Democrats to make the community more aware of the GOP candidate’s conservative issues on social issues such as abortion rights.
Jewish Democrats won’t have help from the media in getting that message out, though. Rothenberg said that while McCain may take conservative positions on social issues, “most of us [in the press] think McCain doesn’t care about that” and give him a free pass – believing issues of national security and foriegn policy are what really motivates the Republican. “It’s up to the Democrats to say here is his record,” said Rothenberg.