- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

The Bush-Cheney ticket is making an all-out effort this election to increase its take of the Jewish vote, a powerful voting bloc that could turn the tide in several battleground states.

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who each addressed enthusiastic Jewish groups last month, have overseen one of the most aggressive pro-Israel agendas of any recent administration, which Republican campaign strategists and Jewish leaders say has loosened the Democrats’ stranglehold on the Jewish vote.

“The Jewish vote is more in play this election than it was in the last,” said Josh Block, spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the most powerful Jewish organizations in the country.

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“It is clear that in some of these very close swing states — Florida, Pennsylvania, potentially Ohio, Nevada, New Jersey — that there is a significant enough percentage of the voting population that is Jewish that it could make a difference in a very close election,” he said.

Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman said Jewish voters, only 19 percent of whom supported Mr. Bush in 2000, now know the president as a strong leader on the war on terror, a topic of importance in their community, who has the moral clarity to stay the course.

“And they’ve seen the president take a position that we need to make sure we support our ally — the one democracy in the Middle East, Israel — while at the same time working in order to provide a democratic Palestinian state that respects Israel’s security,” Mr. Mehlman said.

The Bush-Cheney campaign, according to one Jewish official who works closely with the White House, is looking to pick up about a third of the Jewish vote this year, similar to the support former Republican President Ronald Reagan, a strong advocate of Israel, received in his two successful campaigns.

A poll taken last year for the American Jewish Committee found the president is making some headway as 31 percent of those surveyed said they plan to vote for him in November.

“While [Jews] are only 2 [percent] or 3 percent nationwide, they’re a fairly high concentration in some of the key swing states. In those states, picking up an additional 20 percent of that vote in a really tight race would probably make a difference,” said Monika L. McDermott, an assistant professor of political science who conducts research on voting behavior and public opinion at the University of Connecticut.

Nine states with large Jewish populations account for 212 of the 270 electoral votes a candidate will need to win the White House, according to an analysis by Steven Windmueller, director of the Jewish Institute of Religion at Hebrew Union College.

While the two states with the largest Jewish populations — New York and California — will almost surely vote for the Democratic candidate, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio, which hold 68 electoral votes, are up for grabs.

In addition, the Jewish vote in Michigan, Nevada, Missouri and Arizona could swing the election in November.

In 2000, Mr. Bush won Florida by less than 1 percent, lost Pennsylvania by 4.2 percent and was hammered in New Jersey by 16 percentage points. A new poll this month shows Mr. Bush and the presumptive Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, running neck and neck in New Jersey.

Mr. Bush’s gains are coming at the expense of Mr. Kerry, who unlike Vice President Al Gore in 2000, will not have the first Jew on a national ticket, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, to generate support.

Although the American Israel Public Affairs Committee rates Mr. Kerry’s tenure in the Senate highly, he has of late been alienating Jews, in part by saying he would consider appointing former Secretary of State James A. Baker III or former President Carter, both viewed by many Jews as biased against Israel, as an envoy to the Middle East.

Mr. Kerry also said in June 2002 that he supported inserting American troops into the region, an idea Israel has long rejected and, last year, condemned Israel’s security fence as “another barrier to peace.”

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