CAMPAIGN CONFIDENTIAL: Jews Flock to Obama, Hikind Backs McCain, Khalidi Ties Resurface, JStreet Picks 41 Pols

Published October 30, 2008, issue of November 07, 2008.
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Jews Flock To Obama

A new poll suggests that Barack Obama has won over significant numbers of Jewish voters during the past few months and could match historic Democratic levels of Jewish support.

Obama now has the support of 74% of likely Jewish voters, compared to 22% for John McCain, according to a poll released by Gallup. If those numbers prove to hold up on Election Day, they would roughly be consistent with the level of support that Democratic candidates have pulled in the past few elections.

Obama’s perceived low level of support in the Jewish community has been a persistent story line in this election. For several months, polls have showed Obama’s support among Jewish voters hovering around 60%, which would be the lowest level of support for a Democrat in two decades, while McCain’s hovered around 30%.

“I think what we have been seeing for a long time is this significant barrier in terms of increasing support for Obama,” said David Singer, director of research for the American Jewish Committee, who has polled Jews on political issues for many years. “That clearly now has been broken.”

Gallup’s newly released numbers, based on national tracking polls, show Obama’s support steadily rising from a low of 61% in July. McCain’s support among Jews, in turn, has dropped, from 34% in July.

Singer noted that the shift to Obama came in the context of the recent economic downturn, which has broadly strengthened Obama’s electoral support.

— Anthony Weiss


Hikind Backs McCain

Dov Hikind, an influential Orthodox Jewish Democrat and New York State assemblyman, crossed party lines to endorse John McCain just eight days before the election, pointing to Barack Obama’s ties to a controversial Chicago pastor.

Hikind, who represents a heavily Orthodox area of Brooklyn, has drawn criticism from fellow Democrats for breaking party lines in past elections. Although he endorsed the runs of Bill Clinton and Al Gore, Hikind threw his weight behind President Bush in 2004, pointing to Bush’s approach to Israel. Hikind said he had been in touch with the McCain campaign before making his choice this week.

Mark Broxmeyer, national chairman of the Jewish coalition for the McCain campaign, said the campaign did not know the endorsement was coming.

New York political consultant Hank Sheinkopf said that Hikind’s endorsement is not surprising. He views it “consistent with the feelings of his constituents,” who are less forgiving of Obama’s associations with the Wright and who tend to vote Republican anyway.  

Hikind told the Forward that the primary factor behind his decision was the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s former pastor in Chicago.

“For 20 years, Barack Obama did not right the wrongs of Rev. Wright’s racist and anti-Israel rants,” Hikind told the Forward. “If Obama couldn’t stand up for what’s right, how is he going to be the president of the United States?”

Obama was dogged by his ties to Wright during the Democratic primaries, but McCain has largely declined to raise the issue during recent campaigning. Hikind said he decided to speak up about this issue now because “I was actually hoping that during the last month or two that this would become more of an issue.”

“Unfortunately we’re down to the last week, and in spite of what the polls indicate,” Hikind said, “I just wanted to go on the record to say that there’s no way in the world I can support someone like Barack Obama just based on Rev. Wright.”

— Lana Gersten


Khalidi Ties Resurface

Barack Obama’s relationship with a prominent Palestinian-American academic made its way into the last week of the presidential campaign, thanks to some pushing by John McCain.

Both McCain and his vice-presidential nominee made a public issue out of a report from April regarding Barack Obama’s ties with scholar and pro-Palestinian activist Rashid Khalidi.

The campaign attacked not only Obama but also the Los Angeles Times for refusing to publish a videotape of a farewell party for Khalidi in which the Democratic candidate reportedly praised Khalidi, an outspoken critic of Israel.

The event, first reported by the L.A. Times on April 10, took place in 2003. It was in honor of Khalidi who was leaving his post at the University of Chicago to take a position as a professor for Middle East studies at Columbia University. The newspaper reported it had obtained a videotape of the event from an anonymous source and had promised not to make the tape public.

“If there was a tape of John McCain in a neo-Nazi outfit, I think the treatment of the issue would be slightly different,” McCain said in an October 29 radio interview.

His running mate Sarah Palin also took on the issue, telling a crowd in Ohio “It must be nice for a candidate to have major news organizations looking out for their best interests like that.”

The L.A. Times rejected claims of pro-Obama bias.

“The Times is not suppressing anything. Just the opposite — the L.A. Times brought the matter to light” said the papers’ readers’ representative Jamie Gold.

Barack Obama’s campaign issued a statement blaming McCain for trying to distract voters from the economic issues and calling the allegations a “recycled, manufactured controversy.”

The statement added “Khalidi is not an adviser to him or his campaign and that he does not share Khalidi’s views.”

—Nathan Guttman


JStreet Picks 41 Pols

A dovish pro-Israel political action committee has endorsed 41 U.S. congressional candidates.

A week before the elections, the recently formed J Street committee added 18 candidates to its list of 23, nearly doubling the number the group originally expected to back. Founder Jeremy Ben-Ami had predicted when J Street was established earlier this year that it would endorse about 20 candidates.

The group has raised more than $700,000 and spent nearly $500,000 on congressional races. The chief beneficiary has been Jeff Merkley, who is challenging incumbent Senator Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), with at least $91,000.

Among the 41 candidates, 10 are Jewish, including four added Tuesday: Democrat Ethan Berkowitz, and Democratic Reps. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Adam Schiff of California and John Yarmuth of Kentucky.

— JTA






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