Las Vegas — The GOP Jewish faithful descended in force on Sin City, turning out in record numbers and striking a feisty, combative tone at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual conference.
According to organizers, some 400 people attended the gathering, where they were feted with poker and golf tournaments, and wooed by presidential hopefuls.
“In Jewish crowds, I’m tired of keeping my political views quiet,” said Barry Sobel, an asset manager from College Park, Ga. “It’s nice to be in a room of like-minded people.”
Jewish Republicans make up a distinct minority of American Jewry – President Obama won 69 percent of Jewish votes in the 2012 elections, according to exit polls – and a tiny proportion of the national electorate.
However, they wield a political clout that far exceeds their numbers, in large part because Jewish Republicans are some of the GOP’s most important donors. And no donor is more important than the host of this year’s conference, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.
The conference was held in the Adelson-owned Venetian hotel and casino, and his presence loomed large over the gathering.
National media dubbed this year’s conference the “Sheldon Primary,” in recognition of the many potential Republican presidential candidates who arrived not only to address the crowds but for private sit-downs with Adelson, who spent a reported $93 million on the 2012 presidential election and has announced he will spend much more on 2016. He also is backing an effort to bring the 2016 Republican National Convention to Las Vegas.
Along with a Shabbat dinner address by Israel’s U.S. ambassador, Ron Dermer, and a scotch-tasting with Israeli venture capitalist Jonathan Medved, this year’s conference featured a cattle call of sorts for GOP presidential hopefuls. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush spoke to an exclusive dinner held at Adelson’s private airplane hangar on Thursday. On Saturday, Govs. Chris Christie, Scott Walker and John Kasich, as well as John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, addressed attendees.
As they gathered beneath the Venetian glass chandeliers, painted ceilings and gold leaf ornaments of the hotel’s palatial surroundings, conference-goers echoed many of the hot-button concerns that have dominated the GOP discourse – creeping socialism, the IRS, Benghazi. But one issue consistently stood out: Israel.
Conferees could be overheard sharing tales of Democrats’ fecklessness toward the Jewish state, and it was invocations of Israel that drew the loudest applause during the speeches.
“This administration has played Jews for suckers,” Sobel said, accusing the Obama administration of “trying to put Israel in its place.”
“Right now, Jews need to be one-issue voters,” he added.
Adelson, too, has long declared that Israel is his top political issue, above even banning online gambling.