Washington — It was the run-up to Election Day, and Matt Brooks, the Republican Jewish Coalition’s longtime executive director, was on a swing state blitz, flanked by Republican celebrities Ari Fleischer and Norm Coleman, the former senator from Minnesota: Colorado, Ohio, Nevada, Michigan, Florida and Pennsylvania — the trio crisscrossed the continent in a whirlwind over 5 days.
At that point, no one knew who the winner would be. But for Brooks, the trip culminated in an election milestone of sorts regardless. Thanks to contributions from mega-donors such as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and other well known Jewish Republicans including Missouri businessman Sam Fox and New York attorney Eliot Lauer. the RJC, which Brooks has helmed for more than 20 years, had run its most aggressive, extensive and high-profile campaign to date in the never-ending effort to get Jews to vote Republican.
The huge cash flow had enabled Brooks’s group to make the sky the limit. There was money for compiling a huge Jewish voter database; for door-to-door canvassing; for extensive polling and a significant advertising buy in swing states with large Jewish populations.
Measuring success, however, is difficult. For Brooks and his supporters, the point is not winning a majority, but simply chipping away at the Democratic Party’s stronghold among Jewish voters. Eroding that Democratic grip is the goal, even if the process is painstakingly slow, and even if there is a disparity between the money spent and results on the ground.
Exit polls conducted on election night demonstrate how slow the shift it. 70% of Jewish voters voted for Obama, only 4% less than in 2008. In the key swing state of Florida, where RJC focused much of its efforts, Jewish voters gave Obama 66% with a third of voters choosing Romney.
“It will happen,” said Noam Nuesner, who served as a speechwriter for President George W Bush. Nuesner predicted that the shift in Jewish vote will increase. “It won’t happen in huge numbers, but it will happen in significant enough ways.”
“The growth of RJC alone is indicative of the change in the Jewish community,” Brooks said. He pointed to an increase in the percentage of Jewish Americans voting for a Republican presidential candidate in four of the five recent elections.
But Jewish Democrats were quick to pounce on what they see as a low return for a massive Republican investment. “We were outspent by Jewish Republicans by over $40 million and they only have four points and another four years in exile to show for it. Some mazel,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a Washington public relations executive and former Clinton White House press aide, who ran a Jewish media hub in support of the President’s re-election.
The Jewish vote has warmed up to Republicans in baby steps, shifting to a peak of 22% in the last presidential election from a recent low of 11% in 1992. During the Reagan era, Jewish votes for the Republican side reached its peak, with 40% of Jews choosing him over Democratic president Jimmy Carter. There have been no election cycles like that since. But lately, the resources made available for Jewish Republicans have grown in leaps and bounds. The group’s 2010 tax returns, the latest available, demonstrate the organization’s transformation from registering revenues of $2.3 million in 2009 to more than $13 million in 2010.