At about 10 a.m. on Election Day, a black sedan pulled up to the polling station at the J.C. Mitchell Elementary School.
“He threw Israel under the bus,” said the car’s driver, a chatty silver-haired man, as he helped an elderly woman from the back seat.
“You vote your way and I’ll vote mine,” she replied, her eyes rolling as he set up her walker and oxygen tank and steered her toward the entrance. “I’m voting for the president.”
Little could better encapsulate the drama unfolding among Jewish voters here in South Florida as the final day dawned on what has been a bitter presidential campaign pitting the Democratic incumbent, Barack Obama, against Republican Mitt Romney.
As in past elections, the bulk of the Sunshine State’s more than 600,000 Jews are expected to support the Democrat. But Republicans have shelled out millions to peel off some of that support – mainly by impugning the president’s record on Israel – and on the eve of Election Day they were brimming with confidence.
“We’re gonna win,” said Sid Dinnerstein, the Republican Party chairman in Palm Beach County, where as of late October, registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans by more than 100,000. “My Christian friends say to me, ‘How could even 1 percent of Jewish people vote for this guy?’ ”
For Obama and Romney, Florida is a big prize. According to a New York Times analysis, if Obama wins here, Romney has to sweep all the other battleground states to pass the 270-vote threshold necessary to win the Electoral College and the presidency.
In 2008, Obama won here by less than 3 percentage points, but he won support from approximately three-quarters of Florida Jewish voters, the bulk of whom reside in the state’s three most populous counties – Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. An American Jewish Committee survey in September found 69 percent of Jewish registered voters in Florida backing the president, with 25 percent for Romney and the rest undecided.
At the Bagel Tree cafe in Delray Beach, there was little evidence to suggest that the president had lost his strong support among the state’s Jews.