AIPAC as Campaign Stop: Courting the Jewish Vote and More

It's well known that, with an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear facilities potentially looming, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference beginning Sunday will be a defining point in relations between the Obama administration and Benjamin Netanyahu's government.

But thanks to some additions to the speakers' roster this week, it's also shaping up to be a pivotal campaign stop.

Voters in 10 states will head to the polls on Super Tuesday, including the swing state of Ohio and the state where former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's hopes lie, Georgia.

Taking time-outs from making last-minute stops to shake hands and kiss babies, though, three of the four remaining Republican presidential hopefuls will begin the day by addressing AIPAC via satellite.

Gingrich was the first added to the speakers' list, followed by committals from former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

President Obama will speak at the opening plenary on Sunday morning.

And while Obama's address will entail spelling out for a skeptical audience his administration's policies on everything from dealing with a nuclear Iran to the Mideast peace process, he'll also be arguing for another four years.

In 2008, Obama got 78 percent of the Jewish vote compared to 22 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). In 2010 midterm elections, according to J Street polling conducted by Democratic pollster Jim Gerstein, Democrats got 66 percent of the Jewish vote.

September Gallup polling found support for Obama among Jewish voters at 54 percent. It was 83 percent in January 2009 and has followed the same downward trajectory as the nation as a whole.

But the commander in chief needs to worry about more than just the Jewish vote when he addresses AIPAC. New polling this week from The Israel Project conducted among registered voters found that 87 percent view Iran's nuclear program as a threat to the United States and just 32 percent believe sanctions and diplomacy will stop the threat.

Fifty-seven percent polled believe that the U.S. should support Israel, 56 percent have warm feelings for Israel, and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres are viewed favorably by a better than two to one margin.

Peres addresses AIPAC the same morning as Obama. Netanyahu headlines the Monday night gala.

As a senator giving his own presidential candidate speech back at the 2008 AIPAC conference, Obama hit various notes coming off a campaign where he'd said in Iowa, "Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people."

He began his speech by addressing "some provocative e-mails" about his candidacy that had been "circulating throughout Jewish communities."

"They're filled with tall tales and dire warnings about a certain candidate for president," Obama said. "And all I want to say is — let me know if you see this guy named Barack Obama, because he sounds pretty frightening."