Partisan groups are investing vast resources to sway Jewish voters in the presidential election as Republicans try to win a bloc that traditionally leans toward Democrats.
Polls show that the Democratic candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, has the support of 60 percent to 65 percent of Jewish voters, still strong despite political attacks, a tough campaign linking him to anti-Israel groups and e-mail rumors questioning his faith.
The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) is running an ad in Jewish newspapers calling Mr. Obama’s position on Iran “naive and dangerous.” The ad uses images of Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and demonstrators burning an Israeli flag.
“Concerned about Barack Obama? You should be. History has shown that a naive and weak foreign policy has resulted in tragic outcomes for the Jewish people.”
Directly under that text is a photo of the candidate in front of a huge crowd with the location identified: “Barack Obama speaking in Germany, 7/24/08.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, called the ad “disgusting” and said the Republicans were trying to link Mr. Obama to the Holocaust and the Nazi Party.
“It’s clearly an effort to sow seeds of doubt,” she said. “Voters in the Jewish community are a lot smarter than that.”
Matt Brooks, RJC’s executive director, called Mrs. Schultz’s conclusion “a monumental stretch” and insisted that the group chose the photo of the senator’s European trip instead of one from the candidate’s hundreds of rallies in the U.S. because it “couldn’t find a good picture.”
The caption was necessary because “it’s important for people to know where we got the image,” he said.
“Right now Barack Obama has a real problem among Jewish voters, which obviously McCain is working hard to try and exploit,” Mr. Brooks said.
Jewish voters backed Vice President Al Gore by 80 percent in the 2000 presidential election and Sen. John Kerry by 75 percent in 2004.
Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), said his group isn’t moved by scare tactics.
“The only question is does Obama win the Jewish vote 2-to-1 or 3-to-1 as Democrats tended to do in the 1990s,” Mr. Forman said.
The NJDC suggested in a recent fundraising appeal that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has “zero foreign policy experience” and is “totally out of step with public opinion in the Jewish community” on domestic issues such as reproductive rights.
“The Jewish community deserves to know the facts,” NJDC writes in a fact sheet for voters that targets Mrs. Palin’s conflicting statements on the so-called “Bridge to Nowhere” and says the Republican vice-presidential candidate wants public schools to teach creationism.
Mrs. Schultz contends Democrats “aren’t trying to scare Jewish voters,” but said Mrs. Palin has “extreme” views on social issues.
She said Jewish voters are passionate about abortion rights, health care and education, issues that tend to favor Democrats.
The Florida Democrat said both Mr. Obama and his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, support Israel. “The only way that the Republicans are going to gain any ground in the Jewish community is if they scare Jewish voters,” she said.
The NJDC noted Mrs. Palin’s attendance at a “Jews for Jesus” speech at her church and suggested that she supported one-time presidential candidate Pat Buchanan.
Mr. Buchanan said Mrs. Palin had been a fundraiser for his campaign, but no fundraising is on record and it appears her “support” was limited to wearing a Buchanan button when he visited her town. The McCain campaign insists Mrs. Palin never worked for Mr. Buchanan, whom the Jewish groups portray as anti-Israel.
Mr. Buchanan called Mrs. Palin a “terrific gal” and a “rebel reformer,” and said both she and her husband were “brigaders” for him in 1996.
The RJC, meanwhile, has a print ad starring Mr. Buchanan, who has said from his position as an MSNBC analyst: “I think Barack is right; we ought to talk to the Iranians.”
That refers to Mr. Obama’s response in a July 2007 debate that he would be willing to meet with leaders of rogue nations without preconditions. However, Mr. Obama has since stepped back from that remark, stressing diplomacy but saying such meetings may not be at the presidential level.
Some Jewish blogs have accused Mr. Obama of having former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski on the payroll. Jewish leaders blame Mr. Brzezinski for much of what they see as the pro-Arab tilt in administration policy. Mr. Brzezinski, who worked for President Carter, has endorsed Mr. Obama but is not formally advising the Democrat.
Mr. Forman said Mr. McCain “has his own problems.” He noted that former Secretary of State James A. Baker III backs Mr. McCain, who has suggested that Mr. Baker - who once used an expletive about Jews - could be a Middle East envoy in a McCain administration.
“If they insist on playing that game they are just as vulnerable,” he said.
In a May 2006 interview with the newspaper Ha’aretz, Mr. McCain said he would send “the smartest guy I know” to the Middle East.
“Brent Scowcroft, or Jim Baker, though I know that you in Israel don’t like Baker,” he said.
Mr. Forman said the tactics haven’t changed and have little to do with Mr. Obama.
“In 2004, they were putting out material saying Kerry is endorsed by Arafat,” he said, and McCain backer Sen. Joe Lieberman, who is Jewish, was a target in 2000 as the Democratic vice-presidential nominee.
Politico last week uncovered the RJC’s push poll against Mr. Obama. After confirming that the respondent was Jewish, the poll taker would ask questions such as, “Would it change your mind if you knew he had met with the leaders of Hamas?” or “if she knew that he had given money to the Palestine Liberation Organization.”
Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said Jewish voters have a “comfort level” with Mr. McCain.
Mr. Cantor, who is Jewish, said Mr. Obama’s acceptance of support from Mr. Brzezinski “indicates some kind of openness to Jimmy Carter-like foreign policy,” adding that those days “really put some fear into people.”
On the highly publicized trip abroad, Mr. Obama was well-received while spending several days in Jordan and Israel.
Mr. Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in June that they should not believe “provocative” e-mails that claim he is Muslim. He is Christian.
He added that he was “speaking from my heart and as a true friend of Israel.”