Seeing Ripple in Jewish Votehttp://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/15/us/politics/obama-israel-policies-may-cost-democrats-votes.html?_r=2&hp
WASHINGTON — Not since Jimmy Carter in 1980 has a Democrat running for president failed to win a lopsided majority of the Jewish vote. This has been true during times of peace or war, and even when there has been deep acrimony between the White House and the Israeli government.
Republicans see a chance to change that in 2012, with President Obama locked in a tense relationship with Israel’s leaders and criticized by many American Jews as being too tough on a close and favored ally. Tuesday’s Republican upset in New York’s Congressional election, they say, is a sign of bad things to come for Mr. Obama.
Sensing trouble, the Obama campaign and Democratic Party leaders have mobilized to solidify the president’s standing with Jewish voters. The Democratic National Committee has established a Jewish outreach program. The campaign is singling out Jewish groups, donors and other supporters with calls and e-mails to counter the Republican narrative that Mr. Obama is hostile to Israel.
Among those efforts is a multi-page set of talking points circulated last Friday with the title, “President Obama’s Stance on Israel: Myths vs. Facts.” David Axelrod, a close Obama adviser, has sent e-mails to Jewish voters, pointing them to a speech by the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, praising Mr. Obama and saying he had deepened the military cooperation between the United States and Israel.
And the White House is drawing attention to recent expressions of gratitude from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israelis after Mr. Obama intervened last Friday to help prevent violence after a mob attacked the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, threatening the Israeli diplomats inside.
It was a rare thaw in the relationship between the men. At times since the midterm elections, Mr. Netanyahu has appeared to put more energy into cultivating the new Republican majority in the House than into his relations with the president.
“We just have a lot of people lying about the president’s record, and we have to push back on it,” said Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who is chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. “The president has a rock-solid record on Israel, and because we’re going to convey that in a detailed way, we’re going to get an overwhelming majority again.”
She took part in one such “validation” exercise recently in Miami when she appeared before reporters with Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, and stood aside while he lavished praise on Mr. Obama.
Like other Democrats, Ms. Wasserman Schultz played down the broader implications of the upset in New York, arguing that the district’s Orthodox and Russian-Jewish population makes it more conservative than other Jewish areas. She pointed to polls showing that a majority of Jews still support Mr. Obama and that their level of approval for his performance largely tracks that of the broader electorate.
Still, American Jews are clearly less enchanted with Mr. Obama than they were in 2008, when nearly 8 out of 10 voted for him (in a Gallup poll last July, the most recent month for which data was available, his approval rating was 60 percent). Jewish lawmakers have been warning the White House that this disaffection could hurt the president in turnout, fund-raising and enthusiasm.
“For a while now, I’ve been hearing from my constituents a lot of dissatisfaction with the statements on Israel that have been coming from the president and the administration,” said Representative Eliot L. Engel, Democrat of New York. “He’ll still get a majority of Jewish votes, but I would not be surprised to see that drop 10 to 20 points.”
The nub of the problem, Mr. Engel said, is that Mr. Obama tends to blame Israel and the Palestinians equally for the impasse in the Middle East — an equivalence many Jewish voters find objectionable. He said this visceral reaction prevented Jews from giving the president credit for the positive aspects of his policy.
Republican groups are determined to make Israel a wedge issue. In recent days, billboards went up around New York City showing Mr. Obama smiling and shaking hands with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and declaring that the president is “Not Pro-Israel.”
“Not a day passes when I don’t see a string of e-mails on my BlackBerry from people I don’t know or groups I’ve never heard of, just pounding away that this president is not a friend of Israel, and worse,” said David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, a nonpartisan organization. “I can’t measure the impact of that beating of the drums, but the pace is incessant.”
In New York’s Ninth Congressional District, which was put into play after Anthony D. Weiner’s texting scandal forced him to resign, the Republican Jewish Coalition sent mailings to voters that put a spotlight on Israel.
One postcard quoted former Mayor Edward I. Koch, who endorsed the Republican candidate, Bob Turner, as saying that if voters in Brooklyn and Queens turned against the Democratic favorite, David I. Weprin, “it might very well cause President Obama to change his hostile position on the State of Israel and to re-establish the special relationship that presidents before him had supported.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition said it planned to use the same tactics in other districts with substantial numbers of Jewish voters in 2012. “It’s very easy to extrapolate to the 2012 election and say Obama is going to have trouble with Jewish voters in battleground states like Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania,” said Matt Brooks, executive director of the coalition.
Prominent Democratic Jewish politicians disagree. “It is not a bellwether district,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York. “I don’t think there’s another district like that in America.”
While Israel emerged as a hot-button issue late in the campaign, a poll by Siena College in early September showed that other issues, like the economy and Social Security and Medicare, were viewed as much more important, even by Jewish voters. With the Republican Party swinging further to the right, analysts said, it will have trouble appealing to more liberal-minded Jewish voters on these issues.
“The notion that this is a single-issue constituency, and that these people don’t vote on the economy and jobs and other issues is just misplaced,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street, a liberal group. “That perception is based on a handful of loud and effective advocates.”
As Steve Rabinowitz, a former Clinton White House official who advises Jewish groups, puts it, “Jews vote like everybody else — only more so.”