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Obama and McCain Commence the Long Battle for the Jewish Vote

June 19, 2008 By:
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One protracted political battle is over and another one is already fully under way. Less than a week after Hillary Clinton ended her quest for the presidency, both John McCain and Barack Obama made stops in Philadelphia, foreshadowing a heated campaign for Pennsylvania's key electoral votes.

During a June 11 appearance at the National Constitution Center, the presumptive Republican nominee promised frequent campaign stops across the state between now and November.

And on June 13, Obama attended a fundraiser at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Philadelphia; according to reports, about 400 people attended. Speakers touting the Illinois senator included two of the state's most high-profile Clinton supporters: Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.

Considering Obama's relatively poor showing among Jewish voters in the April 22 Democratic primary -- according to exit polls, Clinton won the demographic by nearly 25 percentage points -- many in the McCain camp feel that the Arizona senator can make real inroads with Jews, hinting at a bruising back-and-forth on issues related to Israel and the Middle East.

The outreach to Jewish voters would come as part of McCain's overall statewide strategy to woo Clinton's supporters and become the first Republican presidential candidate to win Pennsylvania since George H.W. Bush in 1988.

A key Jewish fundraiser for McCain argued that the Arizona senator has a historic opportunity to court Jews and a real chance to crack 30 percent of the statewide Jewish vote. "McCain certainly needs Hillary voters, and he needs to energize his own base," said Charles Kopp, a Center City lawyer who serves as McCain's regional finance chairman -- he'd formerly played a similar role in Mitt Romney's campaign -- and is also a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

On the face of it, appealing to both Clinton Democrats and socially conservative Republicans would be difficult to do, since the groups hold divergent opinions on issues such as abortion and the Iraq war. But Kopp thinks that McCain can make such a pitch by playing up his national-security credentials.

"In the final analysis, people will feel safer with McCain than with Barack Obama, who they don't really know that well," said Kopp.

Mark Aronchick, a Center City lawyer who served as Hillary Clinton's national finance co-chair, doesn't think that's a realistic assessment. He noted that a group of about 10 influential Clinton backers from the area are planning their own fundraiser for Obama -- one that would include the New York senator as a featured guest.

Aronchick, a member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said that Obama just didn't spend enough time during the Pennsylvania primary campaign addressing Jewish concerns, and that hurt him on April 22. But be added that Obama's speech at the AIPAC convention several weeks ago, along with a lengthy interview on his views of the Middle East in The Atlantic, had helped clarify his positions and would garner some heavy Jewish support in November.

However, Obama's AIPAC speech did generate some controversy. While he told AIPAC members that Jerusalem should remain undivided, he appeared to backtrack from that in subsequent interviews, instead stating that its status would ultimately be decided by Israelis and Palestinians.

Back in April, State Rep. Daylin Leach (D-District 149) had signed an open letter to the Jewish community urging support for Obama. Leach -- who is running for the open state senate seat being vacated by Connie Williams -- acknowledged that Obama did not do well among Jewish voters in the primary, but thinks that the community will coalesce around him in the general election.

While both candidates may be good for Israel, Leach argued that Obama's stances on social issues are far more in line with those of most Jews: "No woman who cares about the right to choose is going to vote for a guy who is promising to appoint another [Antonin] Scalia to the bench. That's just not going to happen when tempers cool."

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