Who Will Win Over Jewish Voters In Florida? Jewish voters are being heavily courted by both presidential candidates. They mostly voted for Democrats until 2004, when Bush made inroads. Now, some say they're reluctant to support Obama given his stance on Palestinians and rumors about his faith.
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Who Will Win Over Jewish Voters In Florida?

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Who Will Win Over Jewish Voters In Florida?

Who Will Win Over Jewish Voters In Florida?

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From NPR News this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Seigel. At this point, there's almost no voter group in America that has not been courted by Barack Obama and John McCain. And that includes a group that traditionally votes overwhelmingly for the Democrats, Jews. They are especially up for grabs in Florida as NPR's Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON: Other than African-Americans, Jewish voters have been among the most reliable parts of the Democratic electoral coalition.

Mr. HANK SCHEINKOPF (Democratic strategist): For Jews, the 11th commandment is, Thou shall vote Democratic, and that has not changed significantly since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the president of the United States.

LIASSON: That's Democratic strategist, Hank Sheinkopf. What he says maybe true. But in the past two elections, the Republicans have rattled the Democrats' lock on the Jewish vote. In 2000, George W. Bush got only 19 percent of the Jewish vote. In 2004, he got 24 percent. And in a tight election, little margins like that can make a big difference especially in battleground states like Florida, where Jews are five percent of the electorate and turn out in high numbers.

Mr. MATT BROOKS (Director, Republican Jewish Coalition): Barack Obama and his campaign realized early on that they had a problem among Jewish voters.

LIASSON: Matt Brooks is the director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Mr. BROOKS: They have put together the most expensive, the most extensive and the largest outreach effort that I have ever seen a presidential campaign ever undertake, with full-time staff people on the ground and actually spending campaign dollars to advertise into Jewish community because they realize that they can't take that constituency for granted anymore.

LIASSON: Obama had special problems with Jewish voters, who were hearing a lot about his church's affiliation with Louis Farrakhan. The false claim that he was a Muslim and about his reliance on pro-Palestinian advisers, an under-the-radar message that somehow Obama was bad for the Jews. Mark Mellman is a Democratic pollster.

Mr. MARK MELLMAN (Democratic Pollster): On the Internet and on the tom-toms and in the discussions in synagogue pews, there's been this tremendous effort to fan the flames of these doubts.

LIASSON: The Republican Jewish Coalition is focusing its advertising on Obama's own now-famous promise to talk without preconditions with the leaders of Iran, a country that has promised to wipe Israel off the map. This ad features Obama's words and Hillary Clinton's response.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): That's an irresponsible and frankly, naïve.

Unidentified Man: Hillary is right. Stakes are too high. Concerned about Barack Obama's naïve foreign policy? You should be.

LIASSON: Obama has been working hard to get the Jewish vote, and not just at the grass roots. He made a high-profile trip to Israel, and he and his surrogates have held countless events with Jewish leaders. In September, national polls showed Obama lagging behind past Democratic presidential candidates among Jews, but now the latest Gallup Poll shows Obama winning Jews nationally and in Florida by about 74 to 22 percent, exactly what John Kerry got in 2004. But Kerry did not win Florida or the election, and Obama still has work to do.

Unidentified Woman: This is with bacon.

Mr. DAVID MERMELSTEIN (Holocaust Survivor and McCain Supporter, Florida): OK.

Unidentified Woman: Do you want tuna sandwich alone?


LIASSON: In Mo's Deli in suburban Miami, the huge warm pastrami sandwiches sail out of the kitchen adorned with pickles as long as the plates.

(Soundbite of a cash register)

Unidentified Woman: 46.76.

LIASSON: That's where we found David Mermelstein, a Holocaust survivor and a McCain supporter.

Unidentified Woman: Thank you.

Mr. MERMELSTEIN: I know I could trust him with our security. We want to make sure that we wouldn't have another 9/11.

LIASSON: Mermelstein doesn't trust Obama, and he has heard things that he does not like about Obama's friends.

Mr. MERMELSTEIN: The preacher, we know what he said about America and the guy from Chicago that I think is either going to jail or is in jail. There's a lot of others.

LIASSON: For Jews here who say that Israel is their number one priority, McCain has a lot of appeal. But Paul Glassman shares the feelings of many Jewish voters, who were going to vote Republican until one thing changed their mind.

Mr. PAUL GLASSMAN (Jewish Voter, Florida): I probably would have voted for McCain if he hadn't picked Palin as his running mate.

LIASSON: Sandy Puder is also voting for Obama, despite everything she has heard.

Ms. SANDY PUDER (Jewish Voter, Florida): I thought about him being a Muslim in the beginning. But I think I'd rather still have him. I'd rather take my chances. I think that McCain is a warmonger. I think we should be getting out of Iraq. I just think the whole thing is horrible.

LIASSON: The actual number of voters, who, like Sandy Puder, are willing to take their chances with Obama may well determine the outcome of the race in a swing state like Florida. Mara Liasson, NPR News.

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