President Barack Obama appears to have lost some of the Jewish support that helped put him in the White House four years ago and could end up being crucial in his bid for a second term.
At least that seems to be the case, according to several recent polls showing support for the president among the nation's 6.5 million Jewish voters has fallen off by as much as 10 to 19 percent, depending on which survey one chooses.
In the battleground state of Florida, where nearly a half million Jews are registered to vote, a loss of even a few percentage points in that important demographic could cost Obama the state and give Mitt Romney another pathway, if he loses Ohio, to the White House.
“A small shift in the Jewish vote can make a difference,” Ira Sheskin, a University of Miami professor who is director of the Jewish Demography Project there, told the Boston Globe back in August.
“There are some people who are concerned about whether Obama really has his heart in Israel,” Sheskin added. “There are people who are afraid that Obama will put undue pressure on Israel in his second term.”
Some polls still have Obama and Romney even in the Sunshine State, while others have put Romney ahead.
But regardless of who's on top at any given moment, Jewish voters, like the rest of the nation, still rank the economy as the top issue in the campaign, according to most polls. But for many, reports about Obama's contentious relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his seeming "reluctance to rattle the saber against Iran," as the Globe recently put it, may cause some Jewish voters to withhold their votes this year or even switch sides.
The possibility of an erosion of support for the president was made abundantly clear in a Gallup poll in September, which found that his standing among Jewish voters was resting at 68 percent, a 10-point drop from 78 percent in 2008 during his race against Arizona Sen. John McCain.
More recent polls indicate his support may have eroded even more to 64 percent or lower.
“The 78 percent that Barack Obama got in the Jewish community four years ago is off the table,” Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party, told the Globe in September. "Barack Obama will get a majority of the Jewish vote, but he won’t get two-thirds.”
Dinerstein, predicted Obama would take no more than 60 to 65 percent of the Jewish vote in Florida, which is about what Republican operatives believe will be the case nationwide, thanks in part to Romney's constant suggestions out on the campaign trail that the president is not a real friend of Israel.
"When you take 10, 15 points of the Jewish vote and flip them, the state’s gone, believe me," Dinerstein added.
That could be the case in the critical swing state of Ohio as well, where ads have turned up in recent days targeting Jewish voters by charging that Obama's re-election could be a danger to the Israeli state.
Writing in the New York Times, op-ed columnist Roger Cohen said an ad in the Cleveland Jewish News this week asked the question: "Are you willing to bet the life of the Jewish people on this president?"
According to Cohen, the ad, paid for by a group calling itself Jews for Israel 2012, questioned "Barack Obama's willingness to defend an Israel 'threatened by nuclear annihilation,'" apparently from Iran's nuclear development program.
Cohen's piece also noted that automated calls from former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, a Romney supporter and Fox News contributor, have been pouring into Jewish homes in Cuyahoga County warning "that a vote for Romney is needed to save Israel from an Iranian bomb and Islamist extremists," as Cohen put it.
An Obama loss in Cuyahoga County, which includes heavily Democratic parts of Cleveland, would he huge setback. He took the county handily in 2008, with an estimated 80 percent support from the Jewish community.
But the Romney campaign is pouring heavy resources into the county in an effort to drain away as much of that support as possible.
Robert Goldberg, former chairman of the Jewish Federations of North American told Cohen that he believes Obama will only get about 60 percent support from Jewish voters in the county this time around.
"Jews just don't trust Obama on Israel," the columnist quoted Goldberg as saying. "The president has no sympathy for Israel. His sympathy is for the Muslim world he knew as a child."
But Goldberg told Cohen that, more than anything else, Jewish voters are turning against Obama because of the economy, although some may have been swayed by polls out of Israel showing that Israelis favor Romney over Obama.
In addition to Ohio and Florida, efforts are underway in other possible swing states, such as Nevada and Pennsylvania, to drain off Jewish votes from Obama.
For example, the Republican Jewish Coalition, backed by Jewish billionaire and Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson, has been airing $5 million worth of ads encouraging Jewish voters to reject Obama and change history.
The last time Republicans won more than an average of 18 percent of the Jewish vote in a presidential race was in 1988 when George H.W. Bush defeated Democrat Michael Dukakis. Bush pulled 35 percent of the Jewish vote that year, but it collapsed to 11 percent against Bill Clinton in 1992.
Republicans are certain that won't happen this year.
"At 70 percent support, Obama would be suffering a significant drop (from 2008)," Tevi Troy, a foreign-policy adviser to the Romney campaign, told USA Today in September.
"The range between what George H.W. Bush got in 1992 (11 percent) and the high-water mark Reagan got in 1980 (39 percent) — we're right in the middle of that. If we go higher than 25 percent, that is good news for the Republicans," he added.
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