John McCain was making a bid for South Florida's Jewish voters, a crucial demographic in a purple state. But then he chose Sarah Palin as a running mate.
The local retirement community known as Century Village is just one outpost in a statewide network of Century Villages, Florida's largest chain of retirement complexes. It is also a time capsule of the New York Jewish gestalt, circa 1965, transplanted intact to the golf greens of Palm Beach County. If a small, unscientific sampling of the shoppers in the Hamptons Plaza mall, directly across from the complex, is any indication, John McCain's choice of running mates may have pushed the residents of this heavily Democratic enclave back in Barack Obama's direction.
"I was leaning towards McCain," growled Marvin Weinstein, 74, as he strode to an appointment in a doctor's office. "But I think his choice of her has turned me off."
"What I hear is she's an awful anti-Semite," George Friedberg said as he sat curbside in his Escalade. "She won't be getting my vote." Friedberg's wife, Florence, appeared at the passenger-side door, shopping bags in hand. "I was leaning towards McCain, but after he selected her I've ruled him out completely. I find her offensive."
Just a month ago, Florida was not considered top of the list among likely electoral vote pickups for Barack Obama. Since the spring McCain had held a consistent lead in the state, which dovetailed with rumors that many of South Florida's Jews, a major building block of the state's Democratic coalition, were wary of a black candidate with a Muslim middle name.
But that was before Wall Street's meltdown - and before the full import of the Palin pick began to sink in. A poll from Quinnipiac University put Obama ahead of McCain in Florida by a substantive 51 to 43 percent as of Sept. 29, and cited "Gov. Sarah Palin's sagging favorability," among other things, as an influence.
Only about 5 percent of Florida's voters are Jewish, according to exit polls from the 2004 election. But this is a swing state with 27 electoral votes and elections here are often decided by slim margins. "You never, ever take a vote for granted in Florida," notes Democratic pollster Thomas Eldon, of Schroth & Eldon Associates. "All the votes here count, even if we don't count all the votes." George Bush owed his victory in Florida in 2000, and the presidency, in large part to the difficulty that the elderly Jewish voters of Palm Beach County had with a butterfly ballot.
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