Despite a controversy over the status of Jerusalem in the party’s platform, Democratic Jewish groups say they are convinced Jewish voters will not defect from President Barack Obama to GOP nominee Mitt Romney in November, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.
But questions remain about whether Republican efforts to paint Obama as not sufficiently supportive of Israel and the platform snag could weaken support enough to harm the president in a handful of battleground states, like Florida, where Jewish voters often form one of the more reliable parts of the Democratic coalition.
Even before the Jerusalem flap, the Obama campaign decided to counter Romney’s arguments about Israel by scheduling former Florida Congressman Robert Wexler to highlight the president’s decisions to boost security assistance for Israel; deploy the Iron Dome missile shield; and confront Iran over its suspected ambitions to develop a nuclear weapon.
“Over the past four years, the president has proven this commitment time and again, in both word and deed,” said Wexler, now president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.
With questions surrounding the Democratic platform’s position on Israel’s capital threatening to overwhelm that message, Democratic officials say Obama personally intervened to make certain that the platform recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. The party quickly amended its platform Wednesday in an unusual procedural move.
But that reversal brought its own problems, producing the spectacle of some delegates booing the changes or vocally trying to vote no — though Democratic officials say they believe the delegates were simply blindsided or trying to protect their role in the process. Nevertheless, Republicans pounced on the issue anew.
“Now more than ever, we should be standing in solidarity with Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East,” said former Florida House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, one of the state’s most prominent Jewish Republicans, in a statement issued by the Romney campaign. “Instead, in a public rebuke, Democrats in Charlotte thumbed their nose at the people of Israel.”
The change came after some Jewish Democrats made clear their displeasure with the original change. Former Texas Congressman Martin Frost said he spoke to high-ranking party officials to make it clear that he thought the lack of clarity on Jerusalem was a mistake.
“I think, had it not been corrected, it would have been a problem,” Frost said after the change was made.
The questions are particularly acute in Florida, which has a large Jewish population and the greatest number of electoral votes among those states that are in play this year. And there were already signs that some Jews were concerned about Obama’s stance on Israel.
At an event sponsored by the National Jewish Democratic Council, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland recalled holding a campaign event on Obama’s behalf in Florida aimed at Jewish voters.
“I must tell you they asked very tough questions — very tough questions,” he said.
Others are more sanguine. At the same event, pollster Anna Greenberg said most Jewish voters decide who to support based on the same issues that drive most Americans’ ballots, including the economy and education and social issues, where Jewish voters tend to be more progressive than others. Any erosion in Obama’s support among Jewish voters simply reflects his weakened standing in all demographic groups, she said.
Greenberg also questioned whether Jews form their opinions based on the minutiae of Middle East policy or a broader view of which candidate is best for Israel.
“I would be shocked if your average Jewish voter knows what the 1967 borders are,” she said, referring to Israel’s borders before the beginning of the occupation of largely Palestinian areas following the Six-Day War.
More likely, Jewish Democrats say, support for Israel is a “threshold” issue; while a relatively unfriendly candidate like Republican Congressman Ron Paul might scare Jewish voters, other candidates simply have to show they are sympathetic enough to Israel so that American Jews — who aren’t monolithic on questions of Middle East policy — are comfortable supporting them.
But Frost said during the NJDC event that a large-scale loss of Jewish support might not be necessary for Romney to claim victory in swing states during a razor-thin election.
“It’s not a question of Obama getting 50 percent of the Jewish vote,” he said. “It’s a question of Obama getting 70 percent of the Jewish vote, or something like that.”