MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand. Today is the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, a time to reflect on changes to make in the coming years. For some Jews, that could mean political change and who to vote for in five weeks time. Day to Day's Alex Cohen has more.
ALEX COHEN: Since 1977, the non-partisan American-Jewish Committee has conducted surveys looking at how Jews vote. David Singer is the man behind those surveys.
Mr. DAVID SINGER (American Jewish Committee): Typically in a presidential election, it's the Democrat that does exceptionally well with Jewish voters.
COHEN: In the last election, Singer says Senator John Carey had 75 percent of the Jewish vote. Before that, Al Gore captured nearly 80 percent. But this year, Singer says things are different.
Mr. SINGER: We have 57 percent for Obama and 30 percent to John McCain. And what I think is really the most interesting number is we have a 13 percent who are undecided about their vote.
COHEN: Singer says his poll can't explain why exactly Senator Obama isn't faring as well as other Democratic candidates have in the past but Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council has some ideas.
Mr. IRA FORMAN (Executive Director, National Jewish Democratic Council): John McCain's general image up to now has been more moderate than George Bush I and certainly George Bush II though I think that is helping him.
COHEN: Forman also thinks Senator Obama's campaign has been hurt by attack ads coming from a wide variety of sources.
Mr. FORMAN: All the way from the real, what I would call the wacky ride that you know, talks about him being a Muslim and he's a main suring( uninteliellgible) candidate to even the former Republican Jewish operation putting two weeks ago are trying to tie Obama to Buchanan.
Mr. MATT BROOKS (Executive Director, Republican Jewish Coalition): I don't think that's exactly accurate. We didn't compare Senator Obama to Pat Buchanan.
COHEN: Matt Brooks is the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. The coalition recently ran ads in Jewish newspapers that stated Senator Obama's views on Israel have been endorsed by Conservative pundit, Pat Buchanan. Brook says the ads are based on an interview Buchanan did on MSNBC.
Mr. BROOKS: On the issue of Palestinian suffering, he said that he is much more in line with the views of Senator Obama. And on the issue of sitting down and negotiating with Iran which Senator Obama has said repeatedly, he is in favor of. Pat Buchanan said he strongly supports that position as well.
COHEN: While the Republican Jewish coalition lauds John McCain for his voting record on Israel. Last week they launched another ad campaign criticizing his opponent. The new one states quote "Obama has surrounded himself with individuals whose anti-Israel views are so dangerous, naive and reckless that it raises serious questions about his judgments." It's these sorts of ads that have other groups launching campaigns of their own.
Ms. SARAH SILVERMAN (Comedian): If Barack Obama doesn't become the next President of the United States, I'm going to blame the Jews, I am.
COHEN: Comedian Sarah Silverman recently produced this online video. It's part of a campaign called the great schlep which encourages young Jews to trek to Florida to try and convince their grandparents to vote for Senator Obama. Silverman recommends pointing out the similarities between elderly Jewish people and young black ones.
Ms. SILVERMAN: They both say, yo all the time or Jews go right to left oy.
COHEN: The great schlep project is organized by a group called Jews Vote. They've also put together pre-written emails to send to family and friends with some much more serious reasons why Jewish voters might prefer Senator Obama to Senator McCain. Mik Moore is one of the group's executive directors.
Mr. MIK MOORE (Executive Director, Jews Vote): Barack Obama has the right policy ideas. His emphasis on the need for energy independence and moving away from fossil fuels and somebody who would bring an approach to the Middle East that would actually enhance Israel's security.
COHEN: Keep in mind, even with all this effort and energy devoted to courting the Jewish vote, it's a pretty small demographic.
Mr. JOHN GREEN (Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life): There's about two percent of the adult population.
COHEN: John Green is a senior fellow with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. And he says though there are only a few million Jews in America voting age, they do vote often more so than other religious groups.
Mr. GREEN: So, when you look at the actual electorate on Election Day, Jews often times are larger than two percent.
COHEN: And Green says, keep in mind where they vote. Though most Jews live in none battleground states like New York and California, there are now plenty of Jewish voters residing in places currently up for grabs like Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Nevada. Alex Cohen, NPR News.
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