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The war over whether Obama was a friend or an enemy of Israel was designed to whip up excitement among each side’s Jewish base in the swing districts. In the Las Vegas Jewish community, it worked. At a synagogue political forum attended by a Forward reporter in a suburb south of the city just weeks before the election, fired-up attendees booed hawkish Democratic Senate candidate Shelley Berkley as she defended Obama’s position on Iran.
Outside Las Vegas, however, Republicans seemed to have a harder time getting the message to stick. Emblematic of the difficulty was the case of Ed Koch, the former New York City mayor whose declaration that the Turner race was a referendum on Obama’s Israel policy rallied the entire Republican effort. Despite his harsh criticism, by the summer Koch was telling the Forward that he planned to stump for Obama in Florida. In a video released in late October by the Obama campaign, Koch endorsed the president, a silver menorah visible just over his shoulder.
“He’s listened to the Jewish community and proven himself a true friend of Israel,” Koch said.
But the Republican Jewish activists weren’t the only ones whose grand attacks seem to have sputtered. When Romney chose Ryan as his running mate in August, some Jewish Democrats declared Florida all but won. Ryan had advocated a budget plan that would have led to major changes in Medicare, the federal program that provides health insurance to retirees and on which millions of Florida seniors rely.
“Romney has made my job much easier,” Koch told the Forward in the days after the Ryan selection.
Yet the Florida bump Democrats expected never came. Obama held a slight lead in the state in August; it grew a bit in September, but was wiped out by Election Day. As of this writing the state is still too close to call.