Supporters of Barack Obama readily acknowledge a lingering reluctance among many Jewish voters to embrace the presumptive nominee. The campaign has recently stepped up its outreach to Jewish voters and the Jewish community at large, including naming long-time adviser Daniel Shapiro to a formal role in the Obama campaign.
Jewish and political leaders say the effort to win over voters has proven particularly difficult in South Florida.
But could the solution to Obama’s problem be as simple as noshing on a bagel and lox?
Maybe, says U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who has been tapped by the Obama campaign to speak with Jewish leadership councils in Florida and addressed the Denver-area council over the weekend.
“He just has a learning curve with our voters, which he’s going to rapidly close when we bring him down and take him around for some bagels and cream cheese in the condos,” Wasserman Schultz said Sunday during a National Jewish Democratic Council reception outside the Golda Meir House in Denver.
Senior citizens and South Floridians are beginning to embrace Obama because they understand that beyond the issue of Israel Republican John McCain is not in sync with Jewish voters on domestic and social issues, she contends.
Other Jewish leaders, though, say the Obama campaign’s outreach efforts have been hampered because most of the Illinois senator’s Jewish surrogates are more liberal or progressive.
“He needs a Joe Lieberman type,” said Rabbi Marc Schneier, referring to the Connecticut Democratic senator turned Independent who has been supporting McCain. Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic nominee for vice president, remains a popular figure with many Conservative and Orthodox Jews.
Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and a past president of the North American Board of Rabbis, says it’s critical for Obama to have more conservative surrogates if he is going to be able to acquire wider support within the Jewish community.
“You cannot ignore those and the standing of the orthodox Jewish community,” he said.