President Barack Obama today wrapped himself in the mantle of the American Jewish community’s liberal wing, while Republicans touted their growing support among their conservative counterparts.
Former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman said on Friday that Obama’s poor support for Israel, combined with his mismanagement of the economy and American Jews’ improving relationship with evangelical Christians, have boosted the GOP’s likely share of the Jewish community’s vote.
“Obama does not have a messaging problem with the Jewish community; he has a policy problem,” said Coleman, who is now backing Gov. Mitt Romney.
Most pollsters and strategists expect Obama to win a majority of Jews’ votes in the 2012 election, largely because his liberal attitudes on social issues are shared by a majority of Jewish Americans.
Generally, Jewish communities that are labeled as “liberal” or “reform” align with left-of-center Democrats. Jewish communities that call themselves “orthodox” have increasingly aligned themselves with GOP politicians like Coleman.
In 2008, Obama won 78 percent of the Jewish vote, said Tevi Troy, a former official in George W. Bush’s administration.
“The Jewish community is a long-standing Democratic community [but] we’re seeing indications that margin could be reduced significantly [in 2012],” Troy explained. (RELATED: Full coverage of Barack Obama)
A September poll by the American Jewish Committee pegged the president’s support at only 45 percent. Another September poll by Gallup showed Obama’s support among Jews at 54 percent. The drop among Jews matches his drop among all voters, Gallup reported.
Jews are small slice of the electorate, but Democrats and Republicans are fighting for every vote they can get because some state elections are decided by very small margins. In 2008, for example, Obama won North Carolina by only 14,000 votes. In 2000 Bush won Florida, and ultimately the presidency, by a few hundred votes.
In 2012, the Jewish vote could include 450,000 Floridians, 225,000 Pennsylvanians, more than 100,000 voters in Michigan and Ohio, and 50,000 in Virginia and North Carolina.
Obama displayed his alliance with liberal Jews Friday afternoon when he pitched his liberal policies to the Union of Reform Judaism’s 2011 Biennial Convention, held in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C.
“The dream we share is about more than doing well for yourself,” Obama declared as he chronicled his support for abortion choice, rights for gays and for liberal judges, and for opposition to “bigotry” and “religious discrimination.”
Those talking points prompted loud cheers, but Obama’s promise of economic redistribution prompted only muted applause. Jews “remember what is was like to scratch and claw … what it was like to see members of your own family struggle,” Obama said.
Just before Obama spoke, Union for Reform Judaism president Rabbi Eric Yoffie lavishly complimented him. The reform movement, he said, “is the largest segment of American Jews” with 1.5 million members.
“Our movement stands for openness and embraces pluralism,” Yoffie said, before applauding Obama’s policies on abortion and gay rights.
He also applauded Obama’s foreign policy, including its efforts to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons for possible use against Israel. “We are grateful beyond measure for the unprecedented coalition of nations you have organized to combat that threat,” he said.
GOP leaders, however, point out that the international coalition has not imposed strong trade sanctions on Iran, and that Obama has not announced sanctions against Iran’s central bank, which plays a crucial role in funding Ian’s nuclear weapons program.
Obama used his speech to jab at the GOP’s criticism that he has tilted U.S. foreign policy away from Israel and towards Arabs and the Islamist movement.
His promise of support for Israel — “two states for two peoples” — also got him applause. “My commitment to the security of Israel is unshakable. … Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise,” he declared.
The bonds between the United States and Israel “transcend partisan politics — or at leas they should,” he said.
Obama, who has called himself a progressive, ended his pitch with a claim that his policies are guided by tradition. “With tradition as our guide … we will make the choices that are hard but right.”