Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Politics

As Mitt Romney pursues must-win Florida, Jewish vote is key target

As sure as the TV ads start blitzing the I-4 corridor every presidential election, so does the chatter that Democrats have a Jewish voter problem that could deliver Florida to the GOP.

"The Jewish vote definitely is moving toward Mitt Romney," said St. Petersburg developer Mel Sembler, a top Republican fundraiser whom Romney invited to join him in Israel on Sunday. "I've had so many people tell me that they've always voted Democrat and they just can't bring themselves to vote for (Barack) Obama."

These predictions are nothing new. Republicans aggressively targeted Jewish voters in 2004, when exit polls found John Kerry won 75 percent of that vote. Same in 2008, when Obama won 78 percent of the Jewish vote. A Republican nominee hasn't cracked 25 percent in Florida since 1988.

"Obama got 78 percent last time, and the chance of him equaling that number is simply nonexistent," said Palm Beach County Republican chairman Sid Dinerstein, predicting Obama will win slightly more than 60 percent in November. "And if he gets in the low 60s, then I will tell you Florida is not really in play."

Jewish voters have long had an outsized influence in Florida politics through fundraising and activism relative to their sheer number of votes. Exit polls found that Jewish voters accounted for 4 percent of the Florida electorate in 2008, though some experts believe it could be as much as 7 percent.

Florida is a state renowned for close elections — Obama won by less than 3 percentage points four years ago — and in a tight race, simply slicing into Obama's margin of victory among Jewish voters could be enough to tilt the state to Romney. That's crucial, given it's close to impossible for Romney to win the presidency without Florida.

And if Obama receives only 68 percent of Florida's Jewish vote, which is what a recent Gallup poll showed him earning nationally, it could mean 20,000 fewer Florida votes than he received in 2008.

"Every vote that we move away from the Democrats makes it more and more challenging ultimately for them to win," said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which is mounting an unprecedented $6.5 million campaign targeting Jewish voters in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The group's board includes Sembler and Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who has pledged to spend up to $100 million helping Romney

Disenchantment over the economy, as well as suggestions that Obama has not been a strong enough ally of Israel, are the main attack points.

"A couple months ago, there seemed to be an opportunity for Romney to peel away Jewish voters,'' said Diane Glasser, a Jewish Democratic activist in Broward County, noting that many voters in South Florida were receiving emails noting that Obama had visited Cairo but not Israel and that he was bad for Israel.

Democrats have pushed back hard. In recent months, Democratic National Committee chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, White House chief of staff Jack Lew and Vice President Joe Biden have visited South Florida and highlighted the administration's strong relationship with Israel.

Romney softened his tone while abroad, but he previously said Obama "threw Israel under the bus" for saying Israel should return to its 1967 borders as a starting point for peace talks, a long held, but rarely stated, position by the United States. He has accused Obama of expecting too many concessions by Israel to the Palestinians and being too weak on the nuclear threat from Iran.

"There is no credible way to attack Barack Obama on the security of Israel or the security of America. This is the guy who went in and took out Osama bin Laden, and this is the guy who in three years took out two-thirds of the leadership of al-Qaida," said former U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler of Palm Beach County.

"On all aspects of security, military and intelligence, President Obama has been the strongest president for Israel since Harry Truman — and that's an objective fact,'' said Wexler, a beloved figure to many Jewish voters, noting that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday told CNN the Obama administration had done "more than anything that I can remember in the past" in terms of Israeli security.

Still, fueling disenchantment with Obama among Jewish voters is easier than persuading large numbers to vote Republican.

"A lot of people are upset with the president, but I'll still vote for him," said Bernard Witkin, a 63-year-old Jewish voter with no party affiliation who lives in Century Village in Pembroke Pines.

"I just don't trust the right-wing agenda. And we definitely don't agree with the Republicans on social issues."

Jews have long been an overwhelmingly Democratic voting bloc. A study released this month by the Solomon Project noted that since 1984, Jewish support for Democratic candidates has been 21 percent to 34 percent higher than support from the overall national electorate.

That's why Romney's high-profile visit to Israel over the weekend may have been less about courting Jewish voters than about reassuring evangelicals, who tend to be passionate about Israel and were skeptical about Romney in the GOP primaries, said Kenneth Wald, a University of Florida political scientist and author of Religion and Politics in the United States.

Nor does Wald see Romney making deep inroads by questioning Obama's commitment to Israel: "The disproportionate share of those who tell pollsters that Israel is their core issue tend to be the most religious and conservative elements, and frankly they didn't support Barack Obama four years ago."

Miami Herald staff writer Marc Caputo contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Hey kids, you really stink at this voting business

Hey kids, you really stink at this voting business

The public service announcement begins with an insult.This works on several levels for the audience of teenagers.It grabs their attention and makes them laugh. It also happens to be wickedly accurate, and it pretty much explains why Pasco Supervisor ...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Rod Rosenstein, who had been overseeing Russia probe, has offered to resign

Rod Rosenstein, who had been overseeing Russia probe, has offered to resign

WASHINGTON - Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein has told White House officials he is willing to resign in the wake of revelations he once suggested secretly recording the president, but itís unclear if the resignation has been accepted, according...
Published: 09/24/18
Solar farm land price is $6.8 million, including $4.4 million to state Sen. Wilton Simpson

Solar farm land price is $6.8 million, including $4.4 million to state Sen. Wilton Simpson

Tampa Electric Co. has said its Mountain View Solar project near Dade City represented a $75 million investment in alternative energy. The investing began in earnest last week when the utility paid more than $6.8 million for 382 acres in the rural co...
Published: 09/24/18
US considers limit on green cards for immigrants on benefits

US considers limit on green cards for immigrants on benefits

SAN DIEGO — The Trump administration has proposed rules that could deny green cards to immigrants if they use Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers and other forms of public assistance.Federal law already requires those seeking green cards t...
Published: 09/23/18
Christine Blasey Ford reaches deal to  testify at Kavanaugh hearing

Christine Blasey Ford reaches deal to testify at Kavanaugh hearing

The woman who has accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers has committed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday, her lawyers said Sunday. The lawyers said some details — including whe...
Published: 09/23/18

AP source: Kavanaugh, Ford agree to testify on Thursday

WASHINGTON ó Negotiators reached a tentative agreement Saturday for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hear testimony Thursday from Christine Blasey Ford, the woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault from decades ago, two...
Published: 09/22/18

Trump administration aims to sharply restrict new green cards for those on public aid

WASHINGTON ó Trump administration officials announced Saturday that immigrants who legally use public benefits like food assistance and Section 8 housing vouchers could be denied green cards under new rules aimed at keeping out people the administrat...
Published: 09/22/18
Dana Young, Janet Cruz spar over guns, schools, environment in crucial Senate race

Dana Young, Janet Cruz spar over guns, schools, environment in crucial Senate race

TAMPA ó During a showdown Friday in Floridaís most hotly contested state Senate race, Democratic challenger Janet Cruz launched fireworks at Dana Young over education funding, the environment and guns.Young, the Republican incumbent in District 18, r...
Published: 09/21/18
Drug bill canít undo damage

Drug bill canít undo damage

On Sept. 5, two months before Election Day where heís running for a seventh term, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis filed a bill to clarify a 2016 law he co-sponsored that made it nearly impossible for the Drug Enforcement Administration to intercept suspiciou...
Published: 09/20/18
Updated: 09/23/18
Confederate group banned from Temple Terrace country club, may take legal action

Confederate group banned from Temple Terrace country club, may take legal action

TEMPLE TERRACE — After complaints from city residents, the Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club has notified the City Council that it will not rent space again to the Sons of Confederate Veterans for its annual banquet.The country clubȁ...
Published: 09/20/18