Following John McCain's speech to AIPAC this morning, I wanted to get a sense of how he was received, as well as how Israel-conscious Jewish voters viewed Barack Obama.
I stumbled upon conference attendee Norman Lattman, who described himself as a down-the-line Democratic voter from Palm Beach, Florida (which of course had a starring role in the 2000 election). He said he was a liberal on social issues and an Iraq War skeptic who voted for Al Gore and John Kerry, and for Hillary Clinton in January's primary. But looking to the general election, he said he was open to voting for John McCain and would take a "wait and see" approach toward Obama.
"I have to get a better sense of Obama," Lattman told me. "Right now he sounds more like a politician, and we don't know much about him as a statesman… He's a brilliant speaker, and he's been running for office, but is there any beef there? Is there any substance to any of that rhetoric?"
As for Jewish voters, he said, "He's got a lot of work to do with the Jewish population of this country. There sense is that they know McCain, they know Clinton, they don't know Obama. They're concerned."
I also asked him, specifically, about the attitudes of his Jewish Democratic friends in Florida.
"Among traditional Democratic voters, there is a reluctance toward Obama, there's no question about it," he said, which he attributed mainly to concerns about Obama's views toward Israel. "And it could be a problem for him."
This should be an interesting subplot to follow throughout the election year. It is my view that Jews will end up voting overwhelmingly for Obama because they still tend to be ideologically liberal and most do not vote primarily on Israel. But I do think that McCain has great chance to chip away at the traditional 80 percent margin of the Jewish vote that Democratic candidates receive (a recent Gallup had Obama up 61-32 over McCain among Jews). While this is unlikely to have an impact in most of the states with a large concentration of Jewish voters because they are safe for Democrats anyway (New York, Massachusetts, California, Illinois, and Maryland come to mind), it could be a major factor in Florida.
In 2004, Jews represented 5 percent of the Florida electorate, and they went for Kerry by an 80-20 margin. A rough calculation suggests that if Obama's margin were to drop to the level reflected in the Gallup, that it would represent a swing of about 120,000 votes in Florida, which, given the history of the state, could prove quite significant.
Other states where the Jewish vote could potentially come into play if McCain can make them competitive are New Jersey and Connecticut (with a possible Joe Lieberman help). Pennsylvania and Nevada are also states to watch, although the Jewish population is much smaller there, so the race would have to be "as hot and tight as a too small bathing suit on a too long car ride back from the beach."