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Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes a moment as he visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Israel on Tuesday, January 21, 2014. While in the Middle East Harper is visiting Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's visit to Jerusalem's Western Wall this week was a significant and symbolic moment.

But even the holy environs couldn't prevent the earthly calculations of politics from stealing the spotlight.

York Centre MP Mark Adler was recorded trying desperately to inveigle a photo op for himself with the Prime Minister, until being given a firm 'No' by one of the PM's staff.

Mr. Adler pleaded that this was "the re-election," it was "the million-dollar shot."

By "the" re-election he seems to have meant his own.

The potentially embarrassing exchange had Mr. Adler backtracking this week, later telling reporters that he meant it as a joke. Jason Kenney, who was also on the trip, said Thursday that he didn't hear the comment or its context, but that Mr. Adler, the son of a Holocaust survivor, "couldn't be more serious about his commitment to these issues."

Mr. Adler won York Centre by more than 5,000 votes in 2011. Does he really have reason to be concerned?

If the Liberal resurgence under Justin Trudeau holds firm, York Centre should be among the more vulnerable of the Conservative gains from 2011. It had gone Liberal for nearly 50 years before Mr. Adler swept to victory with 48 per cent, compared to Liberal Ken Dryden's 33 per cent.

The domestic political implications of Mr. Harper's visit to Israel were frequently debated this week. Many were careful to point out that Jewish voters are not a monolithic group, nor are their political interests focused solely on Israel. They are diverse and motivated by countless other factors. But the Conservative embrace of Israel seems to have had an impact on party fortunes.

Roughly 18 per cent (21,000) of York Centre's 117,000 constituents identify themselves as Jewish on the 2011 National Household survey.

Heading into the last election, needing just a dozen additional seats to form a majority, the Conservatives hoped to make gains in five seats with significant concentrations of Jewish voters, including York Centre.

Thornhill, where 32 per cent of residents identified their religion as Jewish, had given the Conservatives an important breakthrough in the Greater Toronto Area in 2008. Eglinton-Lawrence, 22 per cent Jewish, chose Conservative Joe Oliver in 2011, the first time someone other than a Liberal had won since the riding's birth in 1979. Winnipeg South Centre, 8 per cent Jewish, also went Conservative by a few hundred votes after more than 20 years of electing Liberals. Mount Royal in Montreal, 30 per cent Jewish, stayed Liberal by re-electing Irwin Cotler, but his margin was slashed from 10,000 votes to a little more than 2,000, while Toronto's St. Paul's riding, 14 per cent Jewish, stayed solidly Liberal.

In the 2011 election, the Conservatives increased their share of the national vote about two points to 39.6 per cent, from 37.7 in 2008. But a major shift had taken place among Jewish voters. According to exit polling by Ipsos-Reid on election day in 2008, the Jewish vote broke down as 47 per cent Liberal, 33 per cent Conservative and 12 per cent NDP. Just three years later, Jewish voters went Conservative 53 per cent of the time, compared to 28 per cent for the Liberals and 14 per cent for the NDP.

The man likely to challenge Mr. Adler in York Centre is Michael Levitt, who launched his campaign for the nomination last week with the support of former MP Art Eggleton and former MPP Monte Kwinter. Mr. Levitt works in the funeral business and has led the Liberal Friends of Israel for the last decade.

Not keen to get in the way of a stumbling rival, Mr. Levitt said he had barely noticed Mr. Adler's misstep in Jerusalem.

"I'm so focused on running a positive campaign that I'm not going to be distracted by the Adler story," Mr. Levitt said. "I think this was a very important trip for the Canada-Israel relationship, a relationship that reaches across party lines in Ottawa."

But, he added, York Centre is very much in play in 2015.

"I wouldn't be in this race if I didn't believe the Liberal party can win back York Centre, a riding that has been traditionally Liberal for over 50 years."

Michael Sugarman, who lives in the riding and runs a computer consulting firm, is one of the voters who went Conservative in 2011. He said his impression was that the trip overall will reflect well on Mr. Adler.

"It's good marketing on his part. He's not a big shot cabinet minister like Kenney, so it's good for his political career," Mr. Sugarman said.

As for Mr. Adler's comments at the wall he said, "That's what politicians do, they shake hands, they kiss babies and try to get in photos."

Eric Malka, president of the Magen David Sephardic Congregation in the riding said he thought Mr. Adler's comments detracted from an otherwise successful trip.

"It takes away from the real story, which is a Canadian Prime Minister visiting Israel and expressing how he feels about the state and about his values coincide with those of Israel. And that brought a lot of pride," Mr. Malka said.

He was doubtful whether Mr. Adler's comments would have any long term impact.

"A lot will happen between now and the next election," he said.

Joe Friesen reports on demographics.

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