Senator Clinton learned the price of striking an off note on Middle East politics early in her first Senate campaign. In 1999, she kissed Suha Arafat, the wife of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, moments after Mrs. Arafat accused Israel of gassing Palestinian women and children. Clinton later claimed Mrs. Arafat's remarks had been mistranslated and eventually denounced them, but the episode threatened to derail her campaign.
"It played very poorly," recalls Steve Rabinowitz, a press aide in the Clinton White House. "For the next six years, she really worked the community and now she reaches into every corner, from the most secular Upper East Side Jew to the most religiously observant, even Hasidic.
"If we're measuring [Obama] against Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, and even to some extent [Sens. Joseph] Biden and [Christopher] Dodd, he's got a lot of catching up to do," says Mr. Rabinowitz, who says he is unaffiliated with any candidate this campaign season.
One reason is simply that Senators Biden and Dodd, like Clinton and former Senator Edwards, have occupied the national stage longer than Obama has. "They have a tremendous head start because they're very well-known quantities in the community," says Rabinowitz.
Jews make up 2 or 3 percent of the US population, but they vote at disproportionately high rates and are major Democratic Party donors, according to analysts. In the New York primary, as much as 25 percent of the Democratic turnout could be Jewish, analysts say.
Jewish base of support in Chicago
Obama has lined up a number of prominent Jewish fundraisers, including Penny Pritzker, the Chicago billionaire and Hyatt hotel heiress, and Alan Solomont, a Boston business magnate. And he has deep ties in Chicago's Jewish community, Jewish leaders there say.