Despite Sen. Hillary Clinton's decisive triumph in the Pennsylvania
primary, when supporters of Sen. Barak Obama look at the totals of
pledged delegates elected to the Democratic convention, they know that
the Illinois senator's eventual coronation in Denver is still the
likely outcome of the Democrats' nominating marathon.
Nevertheless Democratic officials know that the wounds opened up by his
slugfest with Clinton may be felt long after the primary is forgotten.
Though the dominant theme of post-Pennsylvania analysis has been
Obama's failure to capture the affection of working-class Democrats,
exit polls here revealed another potential problem for him: the Jewish
In many of the previous primaries, Jewish Democrats who are generally
part of Obama's favorite demographic upper income professional whites
either supported the senator from Illinois or split the same way as
the rest of the white vote.
But Pennsylvania was different. Here, the 8 percent of voters who
identified as Jewish went 62-38 for Hillary, seven points higher than
her overall margin.
GOP HOPES LIVE
Though not exactly earth-shaking, it was probably enough to give hope
to Jewish Republicans who never tire of predicting the end of
Democratic dominance of the Jewish vote.
They're headed for disappointment. Unless the Democrats nominate Jimmy
Carter at their Denver convention instead of Obama or Clinton, there's
no doubt that the majority of Jewish votes will go to the Democrats, no
matter who wins the nod of the super-delegates.
Though polls have shown that some Clinton voters would either stay home
or vote for Republican John McCain if Obama is the nominee, Democrats
have scoffed at suggestions of mass defections. And no group feels the
pull of partisanship during what is surely one of the most partisan
moments in American political history than the Jews.
With the majority of Jews critical of the war in Iraq, McCain's
pro-life record on abortion (a key issue with Jewish women who like
Hillary) and with the economy in a downturn, there are plenty of
reasons for Democrats to be optimistic.
But what the Pennsylvania results should remind us is that all it will
take to switch the Keystone State from the blue Democratic column over
to the red Republican ledger is a small shift in the numbers, not a
Here in Pennsylvania, Jews comprise only about 2.3 percent of the total
population. Yet in the Democratic primary, they accounted for an
estimated 8 percent of the vote. That means that even if the majority
of Jewish Clinton backers embrace Obama, should a significant minority
of them consider his drawbacks too much to take, that could possibly
tip the scales of the overall vote.
The same holds true in other states where, like Pennsylvania, the
presidential race is likely to be close. And when one considers that
polls show McCain being only a few percentage points behind Obama in an
otherwise solidly Democratic state like New Jersey, the significance of
any sort of shift among Jews (who make up 5.7 percent of the total
population there) would be telling.
Though backing for the Jewish state has been the GOP's sole wedge issue
for Jewish voters, Obama has undercut doubts on that score by endlessly
repeating his mantra of support at every conceivable opportunity.
Republicans and some Clintonites may question his sincerity, but Israel
alone is not going to cost Obama many Jewish votes.
Yet Clinton clearly scored at Obama's expense with Jewish voters and
others with her willingness to threaten Iran if it acquires nuclear
weapons while Obama was still talking about engaging its leaders.
Obama had also thought he had put his 20-year association with the
radical Rev. Jeremiah Wright to rest in a speech given here in March.
His rhetoric convinced most of his fans in the media that it was a
non-issue, but Wright's refusal to shut up has exacerbated the problem.
The cleric's April 28 speech before Washington's National Press Club
made it clear that the notion of his extremism was no media invention.
His stated support for Louis Farrakhan, belief that America brought
9/11 upon itself, and that the U.S. government invented the AIDS virus
and spread drugs among blacks were every bit as venomous as the sound
bytes previously aired on the cable networks.
Obama's association with Wright and former Weatherman terrorist Bill
Ayers are the sort of thing that increases doubts about his judgment
and character in a way that is particularly scary to many Jews. Unless
Obama stops trying to have it both ways and simply disowns Wright, his
former mentor will continue to hurt him badly.
Likewise, he is going to have to start sounding tougher on Iran lest he
give McCain the chance to make it sound as if he would acquiesce to a
situation in which Israel's existence might be endangered.
That said, it must still be considered a given that McCain has little
chance of matching the modern Republican record for Jewish votes that
Ronald Reagan set in 1980 when he won just under 40 percent against
And if Democratic leaders can put a shotgun in the backs of their two
candidates and force them to accept an Obama/Clinton "dream" ticket,
then they may well be able to maintain their hold on the 75 to 85
percent of Jewish votes they have generally received in the past.
The Lieberman Factor
THE LIEBERMAN FACTOR
However, Jewish Republicans have their own "dream" ticket in mind. That
would mean McCain tapping his close friend Sen. Joseph Lieberman as his
Lieberman, who ran as Al Gore's running mate in 2000, has repeatedly
said he won't do it. His standard disclaimer is "Been there, done that,
got the T-shirt." But if McCain offered him the nomination, don't bet
on Connecticut's sainted junior senator turning him down.
Such a choice would enrage conservatives who didn't back McCain, but
have nevertheless been demanding that the irascible Arizonan show them
a little love. But as political guru Stuart Rothenberg recently wrote
on the Realclearpolitics.com Web site, Lieberman is the perfect choice
to help the Republicans win independents and Democrats in November. He
also notes that McCain is also exactly the sort of person who would
delight in a pick that would infuriate his two least favorite groups:
ultra-conservatives and liberals who see the pro-war independent
Lieberman as a turncoat.
Lieberman is an unlikely choice for McCain. His stand on Iraq and
willingness to make nice with Republicans also means that many Jewish
Democrats will probably not follow him. But given the fact that all of
the other GOP possibilities have their own serious drawbacks, choosing
Lieberman may actually turn out to be the least illogical choice
available to McCain.
Obama's weakness may be leading Republicans to overestimate their
chances this year. But if they get their "dream" ticket, then you can
throw all previous commentary about Jewish voting patterns out the