Page last updated at 11:08 GMT, Friday, 10 October 2008 12:08 UK

Schlepping their way to voters

By Ali Reed
BBC News

The Great Schlep
Schlep is a Yiddish word for journey, from the verb "to drag around"

With Columbus Day weekend upon them, Americans will be honouring Christopher Columbus' maiden voyage to America. But this year, there will be another maiden voyage taking place - The Great Schlep.

Got Bubbies living in Florida? (That's a Yiddish term for grandmothers.) Or any other crucial swing state for that matter?

If so, you are qualified for this particular voyage - an organised effort to visit your Jewish grandparents and persuade them to vote for Barack Obama.

"Twelve per cent of the Jewish community is still undecided," Great Schlep co-founder Ari Wallach told BBC News. "That's a few hundred thousand people and they tend to cluster in swing states."

Mr Wallach and co-founder Mik Moore started The Great Schlep to get the Obama message to older Jewish voters.

Many are thought to believe the rumours that Mr Obama is a Muslim. They were getting information from Republican party attack advertisements, Mr Wallach said, and often had no access to the internet to check it.

Hence the decision to mobilise the younger generation.


Senator Joe Lieberman
Mr McCain's support team, including Mr Lieberman, has been active in Florida
Polls have the presidential candidates neck-and-neck in Florida, and the 600,000-plus Jewish voters in the south of the state - the second-largest Jewish community in the US - cannot be ignored.

Nationwide, Jewish people are twice as likely to vote for Mr Obama than Mr McCain, according to a national survey carried out by J Street, a pro-Israel pro-Middle-East-peace organisation, in July.

But Florida's Jewish retirees may be different.

Senator Joe Lieberman, a prominent Jewish "Independent Democrat" has been campaigning there for months, trying to win their votes for Mr McCain.

This Columbus Day Weekend, The Great Schlep is encouraging grandchildren to fly to Florida to convert them to Mr Obama's cause.

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If they are unable, too broke, too busy, or too lazy to travel, they can schlep virtually by picking up the telephone and having the discussion over the phone.

The Great Schlep website has a downloadable file of "talking points" to help guide the discussion. Information on everything from Mr Obama's biography and policies, to his stance on Israel are included.

So far, Mr Wallach said 1.5 million people have downloaded the file. And more than 2.5 million people have viewed comedian Sarah Silverman's Great Schlep welcome video.

The group has more than 18,000 friends on the social networking site Facebook.

A smile

But if The Great Schlep appears to be a humorous PR effort, the people behind it are totally serious.

"This election will be the most important one of our lives," said Mr Wallach.

"We wanted an idea that would invoke a smile," he added.

Senator Barack Obama

Thanks to the talking points on The Great Schlepů my aunt was able to convince Nana to become an Obama supporter!
Blogger Lesley Robin
"[But] the Great Schlep allows people to enter into a very serious conversation in a way that a very serious or boring or heavy name would not have allowed for."

Republicans have also harnessed the internet to lobby this group of voters.

There are "Jews for McCain" blogs and social networking sites advocating hard for Mr McCain.

The national chairman of the Jewish Advisory Coalition Mark Broxmeyer writes on the group's website that Mr McCain has consistently exhibited a strong love of Israel.

"His affection for and understanding of the myriad of complex issues confronting the Israeli people runs deep, as does our nation's long alliance with the State of Israel," he said.

Which side has won the argument will only become clear on election day, on 4 November.

On her Great Schlep video, Sarah Silverman asks: "If you knew that visiting your grandparents could change the world would you do it?"

Christopher Columbus discovered a new world in 1492. This year, it is the schleppers who are hoping to create one.

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