A shame if Jews desert Obama

Published in the Jewish Chronicle

I?m not sure if Howard Wolfson and David Axelrod are the praying sort. But if either man ? senior spokesmen for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama respectively ? is, then this Shabbat might be their last chance to issue a quiet plea to the Almighty, urging the good Lord to smile on them next Tuesday, the Super-Duper-Mega-Tuesday that should go a long way to settling the Democratic nomination for this year?s US presidential election.

I spent most of the last week in two states, South Carolina and Florida, that held early primaries, following the candidates as they addressed packed high-school basketball courts and half-empty aircraft hangars. Among the Democrats, the great focus was on the allegiances of the various ethnic groups that make up the party?s historic coalition. In South Carolina, it was all about African-Americans and who would win their support (Obama did). In Florida, Hispanics were the target group (and Hillary won them).

But a little voice has been nagging away at me with an insistent question: what about the Jews?

After all, in Florida at least, they make up a sizeable chunk of the electorate. There are 783,000 Jews in the state, making the Jewish community of Florida alone one of the largest in the entire diaspora. Yet, while everyone was running after African-Americans and Hispanics, hardly anyone was talking about the Jews. How come?

There?s a simple enough explanation. Most Jews are Democrats and, officially, the Democratic primary in Florida was uncontested (punishment by the national party for Florida?s decision to hold its contest early). That left all the action on the Republican side, and while Jewish Republicans certainly exist, they are something of a minority species.

It meant electoral Jew-pandering remained somewhere off-radar, though it was certainly going on. Rudy Giuliani was the most blatant, trying to woo those ex-New Yorker ?snowbirds? who had moved south for the sunshine but still missed the rough edges of Gotham. Open a paper, and you?d see a smiling picture of Rudy visiting a synagogue in Boca Raton. Turn on the radio and there he was again, boasting of his toughness in New York standing up to the mafia, Fidel Castro and? Yasser Arafat. No prizes for guessing who that last name was aimed at.

Still, Giuliani was thwarted in his pursuit of the Jews as he was thwarted in Florida itself. Apparently, many of Florida?s Jewish Republicans transferred their affections to John McCain, whose hawkish positions on Israel and the Middle East were just as staunch as the ex-mayor?s. At a McCain rally in Orlando, one especially enthusiastic supporter turned out to be an Israeli