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For Barack Obama, a careful courting of Jewish vote

The Democratic presidential hopeful has recalibrated his words about Israel and the Middle East peace process.

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For a candidate intent on courting the Jewish vote, some of the headlines for Sen. Barack Obama in recent weeks have been less than heartening.

"Obama comment draws fire from Jews," the Des Moines Register declared after the senator's unscripted remark at an Iowa campaign stop in March that "nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people" from stalled peace efforts with the Israelis.

"Obama on the Mideast: Not quite comfortable," The Chicago Jewish Star said after his first major policy speech on the Middle East, to a pro-Israel group in his hometown.

And at last week's Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina, Senator Obama's omission of Israel in response to a question about America's top allies gave moderator Brian Williams an opening to revisit the Iowa flap in front of a television audience of more than 2 million.

Some analysts say the miscues add up to a faltering start for Obama with a group of politically active voters and donors who could play an important role in a tight Democratic primary, particularly in states with larger Jewish populations like New York, New Jersey, Florida, Nevada, and California.

But Obama's advisers contend the sharp questions are a result of scrutiny any newcomer to the national stage would face on terrain as knotty as Middle East politics.

"I think it's coming significantly just out of the newness factor," says Dan Shapiro, an adviser to the Obama campaign. "We've known, and he's recognized since the beginning, that for someone who's only been in national office for two years lots of people are going to have lots of questions."

To answer those questions, Obama has delivered a series of speeches since March before Jewish audiences – two before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the influential pro-Israel lobby, and one, last week, before the National Jewish Democratic Council here.

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