Monday, August 16, 2004

President Bush’s full-term effort to court Jewish Americans has failed, according to a new poll that shows him trailing Sen. John Kerry among those voters in the race for president by 53 percentage points.

“The work that the Bush administration has done over the last three years to reach out to Jewish voters has been largely unsuccessful,” said pollster Anna Greenberg, who conducted the poll for the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC).

Mr. Kerry, the Democratic nominee, leads Mr. Bush 75 percent to 22 percent. That share is four percentage points less than the 79 percent that exit polls said was won by the 2000 Democratic ticket of Al Gore and Sen. Joe Lieberman — the first Jewish candidate ever on a major-party presidential ticket.

This comes despite Mr. Bush being what one Republican called “the best friend that Israel has ever had in the White House,” and despite pursuing the other parts of political outreach, such as an official White House menorah-lighting ceremony and a Hanukkah party this past December.

This also could set up an ironic double win, because polls show Mr. Kerry leading among Arab-Americans as well — a switch from Mr. Bush’s overwhelming success with that bloc in 2000.

The NJDC poll shows a dip in support from last year, when an American Jewish Council poll found Mr. Bush with 31 percent support. The NJDC poll of 817 self-identified Jews who said they are likely to vote was taken July 26 to 28 and has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Just one Democratic candidate — Jimmy Carter in 1980 — has won less than 64 percent of the Jewish vote since exit polling posed the question beginning in 1972.

But Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican and chief deputy majority whip, said the NJDC poll was sponsored by a partisan group and should be taken as a partisan poll.

“The fact that they’re taking a poll indicates they are somewhat nervous about Bush’s success with Jewish voters,” said Mr. Cantor, who is the only Jewish Republican in the House and often speaks to Jewish groups to try to bring the Republicans’ message.

He said Mr. Bush has been a great friend to Israel and that Mr. Kerry “sent shock waves” through the Jewish community when he said earlier this year that he would consider naming former President Bill Clinton or Mr. Carter to negotiate peace in the Middle East.

But Ira N. Forman, executive director of the NJDC, said Jewish voters don’t see Mr. Bush as substantially better than Mr. Kerry on the issue of Israel’s security, and rank Israel as a second-tier issue, with the economy and the war on terror at the top.

“What we see all throughout this poll is given the position of Bush and given the position of Kerry on Israel, the Jewish electorate is totally dominated by other issues which, frankly, Bush has no traction on,” he said.

But Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said the poll was meaningless because it was taken during the Democratic convention.

“I think the date the NJDC chose to go into the field reflects a deliberate attempt to manipulate the results,” Mr. Brooks said. He also said he expects Mr. Bush “to do substantially better than what he did in 2000” among Jewish voters.

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