Crazy as it sounds, losing the Armenian vote just might cost McCain the election.

How can the votes of this “small tribe of unimportant people,” as Armenian-American writer William Saroyan described them, matter? By various estimates Americans of Armenian descent number 385,500 to 1 million – roughly one half of one percent of the total number of people who voted in the November 2004 election. But Armenians have more clout – particularly in this election – than their miniscule numbers might suggest.

Once a reliable Republican voting bloc, Armenian-Americans have left the GOP en masse after George W. Bush reneged on his campaign promises of 2000 and 2004 to support the Armenian Genocide Resolution in Congress, which characterizes the systematic slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks in 1915 as a genocidal crime against humanity.

Unlike John McCain, who avoids the topic, Barack Obama has acknowledged the Armenian Genocide as settled history, and anecdotal evidence suggests that he enjoys near-absolute support of the Armenian-American community. Armenians have no idea where McCain stands on passing the Armenian Genocide Resolution, but Obama has made a convincing case to this community that he stands with them in their quest for justice.

Armenians have clustered in states that are solidly Democrat – particularly, Calif., Mass. and New York – so they will neither help Obama much nor hurt McCain much in those states by abandoning the GOP. But swing states could be another story. The Armenian population in several of the states up for grabs is small, but these votes could be decisive in two of them this year: Fla. Is home to 25,000 Armenians, Mich. to 60,000.

Armenians consider themselves in a permanent state of Diaspora, and reward candidates who support recognition of the Armenian Genocide with their wallets and their votes. Like Cubans and Evangelicals, Armenians tend to be single-issue voters. In the past, candidates from both parties made sure to pay lip service to supporting the Armenian Genocide Resolution and Armenians tended to vote Republican because of shared conservative economic and social values.

But when it mattered most last October, Democrats tried to get the Armenian Genocide Resolution passed in the House whereas Republicans repaid the decades-long loyalty of the Armenian community with betrayal after Turkey threatened to complicate Iraq war logistics by cutting off air and ground supply routes. Obama – who successfully pursued a “no vote left behind” strategy in caucus states – wasted no time capitalizing on the opportunity created by Bush to aggressively court Armenian-Americans.

Neither of the candidates’ campaign Web sites include speeches or position papers by the candidates on the Armenian Genocide. However, an officially-sanctioned coalition group, Armenians for Obama, compares Obama’s positions with McCain’s using statements and speeches from both candidates.

In contrast, McCain has shunned the term “genocide,” even in his half-hearted attempts to reach out to the Armenian community. And not only McCain does not have a counterpart to Armenians for Obama backing him – there are, however, American Indians for McCain, Bikers for McCain and Racing Fans for McCain – even the Web site of the National Organization of Republican Armenians hasn’t been updated for quite a while.

Pollster Scott Rasmussen zeros in on seven must-win swing states, which are very much in play, including Fla. Other numbers crunchers include Mich. on their lists of crucial battleground states. While a comfortable five-point margin separated George W. Bush and John Kerry in both states in 2004 (Bush won Fla. 52 percent to 47 percent; the results were flipped in Mich.) the Fla. race is much tighter this year, with most polls showing just one to two points separating McCain and Obama – and McCain has already ceded Mich. to his rival, having stopped campaigning in the state several weeks ago. 

In the 2004 election the Bush campaign used “microtargeting” to find significantly more black votes in Ohio than he got in 2000.

McCain is using the reverse strategy with the Armenian vote. Rather than teasing out additional votes wherever he can, McCain has inexplicably chosen to leave 44 Electoral College votes on the table by writing off Armenian-American voters in Fla. and Mich. And it’s not like he can afford to lose them – especially in Fla., where Bush has also managed to alienate another important voting bloc, Cuban-Americans.

As that old rhyme has it, “for the want of a nail … the horse was lost.” By overlooking – indeed, disrespecting – this seemingly insignificant ethnic group, McCain is extending a Bush legacy that will haunt Republicans for years to come.

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog, chosen an Official Honoree in the Political Blogs category by the judges of the 12th Annual Webby Awards (the Oscars of the online universe) along with CNN Political Ticker, Swampland (Time magazine) and The Caucus (The New York Times).

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