Obama fights for Jewish support amid GOP attacks

By Erica Werner

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Dec. 5 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

The Obama campaign also is going on the offensive against Republicans. In conversations about the Jewish vote, Obama backers are quick to bring up comments by Romney, Gingrich and Rick Perry at a debate last month suggesting they would start foreign aid for all countries at zero. Obama supporters say that would imperil funding for Israel, even though the candidates also sought to affirm their support for the Jewish state.

Democratic candidates typically enjoy a big electoral advantage among Jewish voters. Obama won 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, compared with 21 percent for Republican John McCain.

But Gallup has found that Obama's approval rating among Jews has fallen from 83 percent in January 2009 to 54 percent in just a few months ago. Still, that figure is much higher than his overall 41 percent approval rating, and the drop-off in support was about in line with other voter groups.

Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party in Florida, predicted that Obama would be limited to around 60 percent of the Jewish vote in 2012. Obama backers say that will not happen, but it could mean a potentially decisive difference of tens of thousands of votes in crucial states.

A candidate's position on Israel may not be the top issue for most Jewish voters, who like others are more motivated by jobs and the economy. But it is important to many, and Republicans see an opening, given the consternation over Obama's 1967 borders speech, his administration's rebukes of Israel for building settlements in disputed areas, and a recent incident in which Obama was overheard appearing to endorse criticism of Netanyahu from French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"The reality is that the Jewish community understands that on a number of critical issues this administration has undermined not only the U.S.-Israel relationship, but has made Israel more vulnerable," said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Brooks points to the recent upset in New York's special election to replace Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner, in which Republican Bob Turner won in the heavily Jewish district. Brooks says this was a warning to Obama about his stance on Israel. Obama supporters say other factors were at play, including the heavily Orthodox and more conservative makeup of the district.

But even strong supporters are disappointed that Obama has not yet traveled to Israel in his capacity as president, after delivering a major speech in Cairo early in his administration. An Israel trip had been rumored to be in the works but seems unlikely to happen before the 2012 election.

Democratic Rep. Steve Rothman said he remains hopeful a trip will happen in the next year.

"No president has been perfect on every subject, though history will record that Obama has been the best president for Israel when it comes to military and intelligence support," said Rothman.

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