McCain takes commanding lead; Democratic race tightens

Obama won 13 states to Clinton's eight, but Clinton was narrowly leading in an incomplete delegate count.

john mccain 88.298 (photo credit: )
john mccain 88.298
(photo credit: )
The tight Democratic presidential nomination race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama only got tighter following their split victories Tuesday night, which saw Jews favoring Clinton but giving enough support to Obama to show that he can woo them. At the same time, John McCain walked away with major wins that put him in good position for the Republican nomination, welcome news to Jewish Republicans who largely back him over his competitors. Obama won 13 states to Clinton's eight, but Clinton was narrowly leading in an incomplete delegate count. Votes were still being counted in New Mexico. Still, the popular vote was split very narrowly and Clinton picked up the two biggest states of the day - California and New York - but lost the next biggest, Illinois and Georgia. The results were declared essentially a draw by political observers. Among Jewish voters, Clinton cleaned up in her home state of New York (65 percent to 33%) and in neighboring New Jersey (63% to 37%), but not in next door Connecticut, where she lost Jews by 38% to 61% as opposed to the general public where she only lost 47% to 51%. In Massachusetts, Democratic Jews chose Obama over Clinton by a 4-point margin, though she won the state overall by 15 points. With California and Arizona Jews, Clinton edged past Obama. Some political analysts and Democratic activists were surprised at how much Jewish support Obama managed to pick up. The Jewish Democratic political establishment has backed Clinton in significantly larger numbers than Obama, and the former has had higher approval ratings within the Jewish community. She has also benefited by being the senator of New York, where she has been able to work closely with the Jewish community. William Daroff, who runs the United Jewish Communities' Washington office, said the results reflected general voting trends. "The exit polling indicates that the Jewish vote in the Democratic primaries seems to be breaking the same way as the rest of Democratic voters across the country," he said. "Younger Jewish voters appear to be voting for Sen. Obama and older Jewish voters seem to be voting for Sen. Clinton - just as their non-Jewish peers are." The tally also suggested that attack e-mails describing Obama as a Muslim along with other falsehoods - an assault that the Illinois senator's campaign tried hard to counter within the Jewish community - had not yielded significant results. "Obama's near parity with Hillary shows that actual Jewish voters are not buying into the smear campaigns about him," said one Jewish Democratic strategist who asked not to be identified. Democratic political analyst Hank Sheinkopf offered a further explanation for the divide in Jewish support: New York and New Jersey Jewish consumers of The New York Times were affected by the newspaper's endorsement of Clinton. In New England, Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy's endorsement of Obama had a similar effect. "That's attributable to Jews who see secular liberalism as their religion," he said, adding that in that context, Kennedys are "demigods." But Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, cautioned against reading too much into the numbers, some of which are near the margin of error and most of which come from exit polls with small sample sizes. Still, he said, the fact that every poll concerning the Jewish vote had Jews turning out in greater amount than their percentage of the population showed that "Jews over-participate in Democratic primaries." But while Jews ended up being a significant demographic group in Super Tuesday Democratic contests - composing 16% of the New York vote, 10% of the Connecticut vote and 9% of the New Jersey vote - the role of Jewish voters in the remaining contests will diminish. While these remaining states become more significant as Clinton and Obama battle it out, only a handful of them have large Jewish communities. The next votes will take place in Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska and Washington state this Saturday. In the meantime, speculation swirls around Republican contender Mitt Romney, who won several states Tuesday but lags about 3-1 behind McCain in the delegate race despite investing much more money in his campaign. Some observers have suggested that he might drop out on Thursday in a speech to the American Conservative Union convention. The constituency has been a tough one for McCain - though Romney also lost in many conservative strongholds to Mike Huckabee on Tuesday. Though many conservative opinion leaders are urging Romney to stay in, Jewish Republic political strategist Jeff Ballabon said it's hard to see him overtaking McCain. McCain, he said, appealed to Jewish Republicans because of his strong Israel voting record, his ties to Jewish groups and political workers during his long tenure in the US Senate and his perceived moderate stance on issues. Though McCain is expected to try to improve his standing among the more conservative wings of the Republican party, Ballabon said, "There's too much history for him to try to become something he's not, which means he can maintain his relationship with the Jewish community because I don't think he'll move too far to the right." Though Jews have historically voted overwhelmingly Democratic, Ballabon said McCain's foreign policy credentials and endorsements from the like of Independent Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman mean "He's a very, very attractive candidate for picking up the Jewish vote." But Forman said that both Obama and Clinton have shown they were attractive to Democratic Jews, which would stave off any encroachment from McCain. "I am confident, even against a John McCain, who some think will be the toughest [Republican] opponent, either Obama or Hillary will do exceedingly well and win the Jewish vote," he said.