Obama faces tough test among Jewish voters

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If decades of political history are any indication, President Obama will carry the Jewish vote in November.

But even the most ardent of the president's Jewish supporters concede that his standing in the reliably Democratic community has diminished from four years ago, and he continues to face questions about his commitment to Israel and other issues important to that crucial voting bloc.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is increasingly bullish about his chances to at least neutralize the Jewish vote for Obama after a series of strong showings among Jewish Republicans in the primaries.

So, as Obama on Monday announced new technological sanctions against Iran and Syria at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum -- speaking to a crowd filled with some of the most influential voices in the Jewish community -- the political undertones were clear.

" 'Never again' is a challenge to defend the fundamental right of free people and free nations to exist in peace and security -- and that includes the state of Israel," Obama told them.

What is less clear is how much ground Obama has lost among Jewish voters.

"If [the Romney campaign] gets 30 percent of the Jews, they should pat themselves on the back," said veteran Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf, who added that Romney has the benefit of a "growing number of those in the pro-Israel community who aren't happy with the president and would never vote for him."

Obama was widely criticized last year for suggesting that Israel withdraw to its pre-1967 borders, giving up its occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza strip -- remarks that Romney and Republican leaders have used to suggest the president wasn't standing by America's closest ally in the Middle East.

But Democrats scoffed at the notion that Romney can make inroads with voters merely unhappy with Obama's stance on Israel.

"I understand the GOP's hopes, but they've never been realized," said David Harris, president and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council. "That is the only issue they can talk about with American Jews. They can't talk about choice, gay rights, the environment. They talk about Israel and they smear."

But Romney isn't looking to win the Jewish vote -- just water down the Obama advantage, particularly in battleground states such as Ohio and Florida, where Jews have mobilized en masse in recent elections.

Former President George W. Bush, a Republican, won 25 percent of the Jewish vote in 2004, a 5 percentage point gain from 2000, making his re-election campaign against Democratic Sen. John Kerry easier.

A Public Religion Research Institute poll shows that 62 percent of Jewish voters now support Obama, down from 78 percent four years ago. Meanwhile, exit polls showed that Romney, a Mormon, fares far better with Jewish Republicans than with evangelical Christians.

Any waning in Jewish support for the president would be disastrous for Democrats in an election that could hinge on a handful of districts in battleground states, analysts said.

"Jews and African-Americans are Obama's true core constituents," said Tevi Troy, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. "I think you will see bleeding in other demographics. He has to own the Jewish vote. I think Romney has a good shot with Jewish independents and unsatisfied Democrats."

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Brian Hughes

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner