Has Obama lost Jews' support – and funding?

US Affairs: Absolutely, say Republican insiders. I don’t think the president will be losing sleep, counter some Democrats.

Obama speech 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Obama speech 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Standing before 10,000 American Israel Public Affairs Committee activists three days after his speech on the Middle East set off a firestorm within the pro-Israel community last month, US President Barack Obama didn’t beat around the bush.
Alluding to his call for a Palestinian state to be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps, Obama elicited quiet laughter when he told the crowd, “I know that stating these principles – on the issues of territory and security – generated some controversy over the past few days.”
He continued, “I wasn’t surprised. I know very well that the easy thing to do, particularly for a president preparing for reelection, is to avoid any controversy.”
Having courted controversy, Obama has indeed found himself in a hard place, as not only Republicans but even some Democrats were quick to take issue with his comments.
At that very same AIPAC gathering, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) both publicly distanced themselves from the president’s Middle East vision.
And – perhaps just as important when it comes to preparing for a reelection – several prominent Democratic fundraisers gave voice to concerns about Obama, many of them anonymously.
“I have spoken to a lot of people in the last couple of days – former supporters – who are very upset and feel alienated,” Mort Zuckerman, a media mogul who has heavily contributed to the Democratic party and endorsed Obama, told The Washington Times at the time of the AIPAC conference. “He’ll get less political support, fewer activists for his campaign, and I am sure that will extend to financial support as well.”
“Good friends tell you how you can improve. They don’t tell you ‘everything’s great’ and then you find out nobody buys the food in your restaurants,” fundraiser Michael Adler, who has close ties to Vice President Joe Biden, told The Wall Street Journal of his conversations with the campaign on how things sat with the Jewish community.
The heaviest hitter to go on the record has been Haim Saban, who said on CNBC recently that “President Obama has raised so much money and will raise so much money through the Internet, more than anybody before him. And he frankly doesn’t, I believe, need any of my donations.”
While Saban never contributed to Obama – he gave heavily to his 2008 party competitor, Hillary Clinton – and he committed to giving to Congressional races, his comments still struck a nerve and have revived questions about how much of the Jewish vote and fundraising machine Obama will retain in 2012.
Republicans have been quick to jump on the statements.
“Certainly there is a strain in the Democratic Party that is deeply troubled and that demonstrates a shift [away] for 2012,” said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
He added that the level of the threat was demonstrated by the Democrats’ concern for beating back that perception.
“It’s significant that there’s cause for concern,” he said.
Tevi Troy, who once served as Jewish liaison in the George W.
Bush White House, said that with estimates concluding that upward of 50 percent of Democratic donors are Jewish, “if you’re going to take away some percentage of [those] donations to Obama, we’re talking some serious money.”
David Harris of the National Jewish Democratic Council, however, differed with the GOP assessment.
“They’re going to do everything they can to spread disinformation to distort reality,” he charged.
“There are a significant number of Jewish Democrats who feel strongly about this pro-Israel president, and I’m not deeply concerned.”
But even if the Republicans are right in their characterization, that doesn’t mean it will have a huge impact on the race. With such a deep pool of Jewish Democratic contributors and a Jewish constituency that cast 78% of its votes for Obama in 2008, the impact of dissenters could be blunted.
Troy himself concedes, “There’s no doubt that President Obama is going to have a lot of money in his reelection coffers,” and even that “Obama is going to have a majority of the Jewish vote, because every Democratic presidential candidate has a majority.”
But, he continued, “the question is how much money and how big is the margin.”
Troy argued that when Republicans could erode even some of the Democrats’ large majority in the Jewish community, it could have an effect. He pointed to swing states such as Ohio and Florida, where he said modest GOP inroads among Jews had contributed to George W. Bush’s victory.
“If I were representing a Democratic candidate and I wanted to raise $1 billion for an election campaign, I would do everything I could not to tick off Jewish Democrats and Jewish voters,” he said.
But Norm Ornstein, an expert on campaign financing at the American Enterprise Institute, doubted that the noises being made at this point would translate into major problems for the president.
Obama, now an incumbent, mastered the art of Internet fundraising and has yet to be challenged by an amorphous Republican field.
“I don’t think Obama’s going to lose a lot of sleep over fundraising problems,” he surmised. “There are going to be some headaches there, but I think he’s not going to have any problem achieving his goals.”
He noted that “obviously you don’t want to have significant fundraisers unhappy with your president,” but said a major clash would have to transpire with Israel over the next few months to have a serious impact on the race.
“Are you going to see them give to a Republican candidate if it’s Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann? No, not very likely,” he added of alienated Jewish Democratic givers.
According to Ornstein, more are likely to simply sit out the race, but the numbers likely to do so as this point wouldn’t have dramatic implications.
“It makes a small difference, but not a large difference, and it’s something that a sitting president can overcome,” he said.