Oba­ma­woosakey Florida con­stituency

The Jewish Chronicle - - World News - BYNATHANGUTTMAN WASH­ING­TON

FAC­ING DIS­AP­POINT­ING poll num­bers among Jewish vot­ers, Demo­cratic can­di­date Barack Obama is dou­bling his ef­forts to win over older Jewish vot­ers, mainly those in re­tire­ment com­mu­ni­ties in south­ern Florida.

Mr Obama’s cam­paign has been send­ing sur­ro­gates to speak to Jewish vot­ers in Florida and an­swer con­cerns they might have re­gard­ing the can­di­date’s back­grounds and his views on Is­rael and the Mid­dle East.

Those is­sues were brought into sharp fo­cus by last Fri­day’s de­bate be­tween Mr Obama and ri­val Repub­li­can can­di­date John McCain in Mis­sis­sippi.

Rais­ing the is­sue of a nu­clear Iran, Mr MCain vowed he would never al­low “a sec­ond Holo­caust” to take place, while Mr Obama called for tougher sanc­tions but in­sisted: “We also have to en­gage in tough, di­rect diplo­macy.”

Among those tak­ing the trip to Florida re­cently was vice-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Joe Bi­den, who promised Jewish vot­ers: “I know in my guts, in my heart and in my head” that Mr Obama is a strong sup­porter of Is­rael.

Den­nis Ross, the for­mer Mid­dle East en­voy, and for­mer New York mayor Ed Koch also took the tour to Florida’s re­tire­ment com­mu­ni­ties.

The lat­est ad­di­tion to the Obama Florida drive was an ini­tia­tive called “The Great Schlep” launched by young Jewish Democrats, call­ing on young Jews to go and visit their grand­par­ents in Florida and con­vince them to choose Mr Obama on Novem­ber 4. The cam­paign drew at­ten­tion thanks to a video clip star­ring co­me­dian Sarah Sil­ver­man, known for her use of graphic lan­guage. “If you knew that vis­it­ing your grand­par­ents could change the world, would you do it?” she asks in the clip. “Ex­plain to them that we are all the same in­side,” she sug­gests.

The fo­cus on Florida stems both from the role it plays as a swing state that might pos­si­bly de­ter­mine the out­come of the elec­tions, as it did in 2000, and from the dif­fi­culty in get­ting older Jewish vot­ers, who backed Hil­lary Clin­ton, to sup­port Mr Obama.

Lo­cal ac­tivists com­plained of en- coun­ter­ing a sense of hos­til­ity when try­ing to speak to Jewish vot­ers about Mr Obama. Se­na­tor Frank Laut­en­berg and con­gress­man Robert Wexler met tough and some­times rude crowds when lob­by­ing for Mr Obama in south Florida.

“We need to recog­nise that there is a prob­lem,” said one ac­tivist, state se­na­tor Steven Geller.

A poll pub­lished by the Amer­i­can Jewish Com­mit­tee found that Mr Obama was still strug­gling to reach out to Jewish vot­ers. Ac­cord­ing to the poll, Mr Obama has the sup­port of 57 per cent of Jewish vot­ers whereas Repub­li­can John McCain gets the sup­port of 30 per cent.


Rain on his pa­rade: Barack Obama waves to sup­port­ers at a rally last week

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