Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney at the Monday foreign policy debate, should play to the Jewish TV audience like he was the star of a Borscht Belt revue.
Romney has a tempting assortment of issues he can tap to frame President Barack Obama as a leader whose policies are perilous for Israel. He can use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran, Egypt and even Syria to make a case that Obama’s policies are wrong for the Jewish state.
Given the tenuous state of relations between Israel and the United States, it’s surprising that, according to a recent American Jewish Committee survey of Jewish opinion, 61 percent approve of Obama’s handling of U.S.-Israeli relations, while 39 percent disapprove. Those are numbers Romney needs to change Monday night.
He is not going to win the Jewish vote. Obama overpowered Senator John McCain in 2008 by 78 percent to 22 percent among Jews, and the most recent Gallup poll puts Obama ahead this year by 70 percent to 25 percent. But if Romney can narrow that 45 percent margin between him and Obama, he will increase his chance of becoming president.
While Jews are a small minority in the United States, they generally get to the polls in big numbers. Several swing states are home to relatively large populations of Jews, particularly Florida, Nevada and Pennsylvania, but also Virginia, Ohio and Colorado.
Florida tops the list - 3.4 percent of registered voters are Jewish. Yet, because of strong turnout, Jews comprise as many as 8 percent of those who actually cast ballots.
With the margins in some of these states expected to be razor thin, a small shift in any segment of the voting population could make the difference between victory and defeat.
While it’s true that Jewish voters say they put other issues ahead of Israel, it’s hard to overestimate the tug of the Holy Land on Jewish heartstrings.
According to the American Jewish Committee poll, 71 percent of American Jews agree “somewhat” or “strongly” with the statement, “Caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew.” Support for Israel among Jews extends equally across the political spectrum.
What’s more, playing the Israel card in Monday night’s debate will further energize Christian conservatives, many of whom are passionately pro-Israel.
Romney can dramatize his difference with Obama by suggesting that with Iran’s nuclear program moving forward, no less than the existence of Israel may be at stake in this election.