Mr. Obama sternly rejected the Hamas endorsement, but the latest Gallup polls suggest he has a significant and growing problem in keeping Jewish voters in the Democratic fold. The latest Gallup polls show that in a contest with Mr. McCain, Mr. Obama would secure 61 percent of the Jewish vote to the Republican’s 32 percent. In 2004 and 2006 elections, by contrast, Jewish voters favored the Democratic Party by a 75 percent to 25 percent margin. This suggests that support for the Democratic Party standard-bearer among Jews could be approaching its lowest levels in decades. The Republicans’ best showing was achieved by Ronald Reagan in 1980, when he won 40 percent of the Jewish vote.
Jews comprise just 2 percent of the American population. But they could play a large role in a close election because they are geographically concentrated and are more likely than other groups to turn out to vote. States with large Jewish populations — such as California, New York, Florida and New Jersey — account for 128 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win. Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio also have large numbers of Jewish voters. Consider two states: Florida, a critical swing state, has 400,000 Jewish voters and Pennsylvania 200,000. In these states, a shift among Jews from one party to the other can determine the overall final result. ~The Washington Times
The Times makes a point of connecting Obama’s “problem” with Jewish voters to his views on Israel and Near East policy. When a quote from Gen. McPeak was dug up recently, in which he said something very much like this in the context of explaining the political obstacles to changing U.S. Israel policy, he was branded an anti-Semite and opponent of Israel. The Times is less direct, but is ultimately making the same point: to secure these voters, national politicians have to toe a very specific line on certain policies. The reason you won’t hear anyone screaming over this statement from the Times about electoral realities is that it isn’t being said by someone attached to Obama. Even though Obama does not propose to do anything substantively different from the current administration with respect to Israel or Hamas, he has been tagged as being somehow less reliable. The very pressure that McPeak was describing is being brought to bear on the Obama campaign right now, and until Obama gives in to it by somehow adopting an even more party-line position (which would be hard, since he already holds this position) it will continue.
For the record, Obama runs just five points behind Clinton against McCain among Jewish voters. McCain has improved on Bush’s level of support in 2004, while both Democrats have lost ground from 2004 and 2006 for one reason or another. The main thing that would seem to explain that would probably be the Democrats’ opposition to the war in Iraq, but if someone were to suggest that this was the case he would be inundated with outraged protests about stereotyping and so on.
Update: Jeffrey Goldberg makes a related point:
The Hamas episode won’t help Obama’s attempts to win over Jewish voters, particularly those in such places as â€“- to pull an example from the air â€“- Palm Beach County, Florida, whose Jewish residents tend to appreciate robust American support for Israel, and worry about whether presidential candidates feel the importance of Israel in their kishkes, or guts.