Thursday, January 31, 2008

After Florida: The Jewish Vote in 2008

I don't know if anyone else has crunched the numbers, but it occurred to me that now that the Florida primary is done and gone, we finally have some usable numbers for trends in Jewish voting in this election season. We didn't have data from Iowa, New Hampshire, or Nevada. But Florida has a statistically useful number of Jews. Unfortunately, the exit poll data on the Republican side of the Florida primary (where all the action occurred) was too puny to derive any useful information. Only 3% of the Republican vote in Florida was Jewish; while 9% of the Democratic vote was Jewish. In raw numbers, Jews voted for the Democratic field rather than the Republican field by a margin of 3-to-1. No surprise there. American Jews in national races vote around 75% Democratic.

So while we cannot break up the Jewish vote for the Republicans (just how badly did Giuliani do amongst ex-New York Jews?), we do have a picture of how the approximately 151,000 Jewish Democratic voters broke. Hilary Clinton won 58% of the Jewish vote in the Democratic primary, besting her overall performance by 8 percentage points (only Catholic Democrats gave her a greater margin of support). Barack Obama won 26% of the Jewish vote, and John Edwards won 13%.

Put simply, now that it is a two-person race (isn't it nice not to be writing "two-man" race?), Obama has a "Jewish problem." There are two principal reasons for this. First is the false and (in the current environment) damaging charges that float along in flyers and on the blogosphere that Obama is a crypto-Muslim, or that he conducted his swearing-in ceremony to the Senate on a Qur'an, or other such gibberish. These preposterous rumors have so confounded the Obama campaign that according to Ben Smith of Politico, the candidate himself recently held a 23-minute conference call with prominent American Jewish journalists to quash the rumors. The way the Jewish Telegraphic Agency wrote it up, the journalists wanted to talk about the Middle East, and Obama wanted to talk about these charges.

Then there is the perennial issue which colors and dominates American Jewish voting concerns: Israel. Again, there is a viral campaign afoot that Obama is not "strong" on Israel -- certainly not as friendly as triangulating, pandering New York Senator Hilary Clinton has come to be. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which maintains a site which rates the American presidential candidates (entitled The Israel Factor), Obama has the lowest "Israel-friendly" rating of any serious contender. While I have great respect for this newspaper, it must be pointed out that the panel of Israelis and ex-pat Americans who make the ratings is made up of self-professed "America experts," and in my judgment is hardly reliable.

How this will all play out in the upcoming Super Duper Tuesday primaries, with significant Jewish audiences in New York, New England, and California, is unknown. And certainly there is not enough information here to glean a prediction for the Jewish vote in the national election.

Whether deserved or not, candidate Obama seems to have a "Jewish problem." This quiet, below-the-radar rumble might make a difference in the hunt for Democratic delegates, which now begins in earnest.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Edwards Out - Now What?

So here is the worst-case scenario I've been dreading. I am a lifelong and registered Democrat, a self-described liberal in the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) tradition. And this coming Tuesday my state of residence, Connecticut, is holding its primary on Super Tuesday. I've now got what I consider to be a distasteful choice between two candidates, neither of whom was my first (Bill Richardson) or even my second (John Edwards) preference.

Preferably, I'd like to wait now until the conventions to see who I'll support. But I have what I feel is a duty and obligation to vote this Tuesday for someone. I'd like to stay undecided, but I've now got to work through my misgivings and make a choice. If you get the sense that I am stalling, it is because I am using this writing exercise to work it out in my own mind.

What we are left with in the Democratic race are two weak candidates who will potentially get creamed in a national election, particularly if John McCain wins the Republican nomination (not yet a sure thing). For Barack Obama, the question "Where's the beef?" is certainly valid. For Hilary Clinton, the soap-opera drama of her candidacy (past scandals, the baggage of First Laddy, etc.) cannot be wiped away by good intentions. Obama is an untested and inexperienced Harvard lawyer whose campaign is now an amorphous "movement" of inchoate hope; Clinton is a triangulating Yale lawyer who is running a bitter and divisive old-style campaign of disngenuousness. I think neither is electable -- either separately or together, they will probably go down to defeat in a national election. I still believe that foreign affairs is the crucial issue for the upcoming 4 years. I can't imagine world adversaries or our military submitting to the leadership of either Democratic candidate.

I for one will certainly vote for the Democratic ticket in the national election -- if only because of potential Supreme Court openings which will certainly emerge in the coming 4 years. But I must admit that McCain on the top of a national ticket looks tempting -- but not if Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney is his running mate (a likely move to unify the GOP behind McCain).

I have publicly and vocally announced more than a few times that I will never support Hilary Clinton. Politically, I despise her (though I do not feel the same way towards First Laddy). To quote my favorite morning radio host, "Hilary is still Satan." But I cannot vote for a vague, inexperienced 1st-term senator, however energizing the symbolism of his candidacy might be. Four years ago, he was nothing more than an Illinois State Senator who voted "present" more than a hundred times on legislation, a few times which required a leader to take a stand. He was a US Senator for less than a year before he launched his campaign. There is simply nothing there, other than a symbol of youthfulness and racial amity. That for me is not enough.

So I guess I've worked it out, at least for today. Call me undecided, leaning towards Clinton. I can't believe what I just wrote....