CHARLOTTE — It’s that time of the election cycle again, when Jewish Democrats fret and Jewish Republicans boast that the traditionally Democratic group may finally be moving to the right.
It hasn’t happened yet, despite similar doomsday predictions in 2008 and 2004. But the Obama campaign is taking any sign of slippage seriously, according to Jewish outreach director Ira Foreman.
At a briefing here Monday, the campaign urged supporters to try to persuade voters by addressing concerns about Israel first, than moving on to promoting Obama’s domestic agenda. But Alan Solow, a longtime friend of the president from Chicago who recently served as chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, took a more personal tack in selling “the first Jewish president of the United States.”
“At the risk of stereotyping us, he thinks like a Jew,” he said, likening Obama’s decision-making process to a Talmudic scholar. “I knew it before he was the president, and I’ve seen it every day since he’s been the president.”
He added: “Barack Obama has a Jewish soul. He has neshama.”
The fear is not that Jewish voters turn against Obama, it’s that Democrats’ margin of victory slips just enough to swing the race in a close state. Obama won 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, per CNN exit polling. According to Foreman, the goal is to hit 75 percent or higher. A 10 percent drop-off would mean 83,500 fewer Obama votes in Florida — not a huge figure, but Florida is polling about even and that number would have easily swung the race in 2000.
While the most recent Gallup poll from late July shows the Jewish vote in good shape for Obama, Foreman noted that billionaire Sheldon Adelson has pledged to spend as much as $100 million on the Republican cause this election, and has taken a special interest in peeling off Jewish voters. Republicans are counting on Obama’s sometimes rocky relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayahu to serve as a wedge.
“The Republican part of the Jewish community is quite small, maybe 10-15 percent,” Foreman said. “But they’re much more vociferous.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.