Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. touted an “unstinting” record of defending Israel as he stumped Tuesday in South Florida to shore up support among Jewish voters, a usually reliable Democratic bloc that Republicans are aggressively courting this year.
The town-hall meeting with a mostly Jewish crowd in Deerfield Beach, Fla., underscored Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama‘s unease about attracting Jewish voters, whose defection would dilute the party’s dominance in South Florida and could tip the statewide race - and Florida’s prized 27 electoral votes - to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain.
Mr. Biden rattled off a litany of pro-Israel stances that he has supported, including blocking U.S. arms sales to Arab states, and assured the crowd Mr. Obama shared his unyielding devotion to the Jewish state.
“My support [for Israel] starts in my gut and goes to my heart and then to my brain,” said the Delaware Democrat, noting his role as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I would not have given up that job to be Barack Obama’s vice president if I didn’t in my gut and in my heart and in my head know that Barack Obama is exactly where I am on Israel. He is.”
Florida House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, Boca Raton Republican and co-chairman of the McCain campaign’s Jewish steering committee, said the Biden event at Century Village, a large senior citizens community and Democratic bastion in Broward County, highlighted Mr. Obama’s weakness with Jewish voters in the Sunshine State.
“If Senator Obama thought they had the Jewish community sewed up, they wouldn’t be campaigning down in the Jewish community,” Mr. Hasner said by telephone from the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn. “They recognize that more Jewish voters are trending toward Senator McCain than for any Republican presidential candidate ever before.”
He said Jewish voters are migrating to Mr. McCain because of his foreign policy and military experience and his long record of support for Israel. “He understands the threats toward Israel and the complicated world we live in,” Mr. Hasner said.
Florida Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff insisted that Jewish support for Mr. Obama remained solid.
“The Jewish community throughout South Florida recognizes that John McCain wants to privatize Social Security and keep troops in Iraq for 100 years,” he said. “Jewish voters don’t support that.”
University of Florida political science professor Kenneth D. Wald dismissed the notion of a Jewish swing vote. He said the Biden visit likely aimed to dispel misinformation spread on the Internet about Mr. Obama, such as claims that he is a Muslim, and to touch base with core Democratic supporters before wooing undecided voters.
“The only question of Jews will be the level of turnout,” he said, noting that historically about 75 percent of Jews vote Democratic.
Recent polls show a statistical dead heat in the state. In a Mason-Dixon survey last week, Mr. Obama led 45 percent to Mr. McCain’s 44 percent, while a Quinnipiac poll showed Mr. McCain with a four-point advantage, 47 percent to 43 percent.
Mr. Biden recalled for the crowd that when each of his two sons turned 15, he took them to visit the Nazi concentration camp in Dachau, Germany. He said he wanted it to be their “first experience and exposure” to the lessons of the Holocaust - that there is always the threat of another genocide unless people act.
“I don’t say it for applause,” Mr. Biden said. “I say it to let you know where my heart is and how strongly I feel about this. … It has nothing to do with politics.”