GOP Group Outspending Rivals on Jewish Ads

By Jennifer Siegel

Published October 20, 2006, issue of October 20, 2006.
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A national Jewish Republican group is outspending its Democratic counterpart by a margin of four-to-one or more on advertisements targeting Jewish voters, political insiders told the Forward.

The Republican Jewish Coalition, a Washington-based advocacy group, announced last week that it would continue running a series of controversial advertisements, attacking the Democrats’ commitment to Israel, in more than two-dozen Jewish newspapers around the country. The large size of the total advertising buy — with a price-tag that could top $1 million by November 7, according to some observers — dwarfs the money being spent by its Democratic counterpart, the National Jewish Democratic Council.

In an effort to close the gap, according to an insider familiar with the situation, the Democratic National Committee placed an ad in the Forward this week, noting the long record of pro-Israel Democratic presidents. The insider described the ad as the first stage in a media strategy to combat the RJC campaign in the final weeks leading up to the election. Even with the DNC taking up the fight, Democrats were still expecting to be heavily outspent by the RJC in advertising directly targeting the Jewish community.

The RJC advertisements — which feature photographs of such controversial liberals as Cindy Sheehan, the Rev. Al Sharpton and former President Jimmy Carter, and taglines like “Today’s Democratic party is not my father’s Democratic party” — have struck a considerable nerve in both Jewish and wider Democratic circles in recent weeks. They have prompted not only a flurry of op-eds and editorials in Jewish newspapers, but also a public response from top Democratic leaders — among them Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, the ranking minority member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. While Jews make up a small percentage of the electorate nationwide, they account for a disproportionate percentage of voters in critical swing states, such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio, that could determine whether the Democrats seize control of the Senate and the House of Representatives from the Republicans.

“There are races in both the Senate and the House that are going to determine whether the Democrats are going to regain control… and in those races, there are significant Jewish voting populations, and in some of them, there are a small number of persuadable Jewish voters,” said Matt Dorf, a Democratic consultant who also works with Jewish organizations. The question is, “How do we reach these persuadable Jewish voters in a very micro-targeted kind of way?”

This week, candidates in some of the country’s closest races planned to spend time reaching out to Jewish constituents. On Wednesday night, the rivals in New Jersey’s neck-and-neck Senate race, incumbent Democrat Robert Menendez and Republican State Senator Tom Kean Jr., were slated to speak at an event coordinated by the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest, New Jersey, to be held at Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston, N.J.

Republican incumbent Senator Rick Santorum, who has relied on financial support from pro-Israel political action committees and is trailing in polls to Democrat Robert Casey Jr., was scheduled to appear at a fundraiser with Jewish supporters in Pennsylvania on Wednesday night. On Thursday, he was expected to appear at an event with Senator Arlen Specter, who is Pennsylvania’s other GOP senator and the senior Jewish Republican in Congress.

The RJC advertisements have appeared in Jewish newspapers serving markets in Pennsylvania and in New Jersey, as well as other states with tight races, including Ohio, Minnesota, Connecticut, Maryland and Virginia. Democrats believe that the RJC is planning to take out at least one full-page advertisement in The New York Times.

Funding for RJC’s advertising campaign has come entirely from its membership, which has been solicited through the Internet, according to Matt Brooks, executive director of the RJC. Brooks told the Forward that “100%” of the money raised for the advertisements is being used for the effort.

Brooks declined to say how much RJC was spending on the ads or to confirm whether the organization planned to place an ad in The New York Times.

In an interview with the Forward, the National Jewish Democratic Council’s deputy executive director, David Goldenberg, admitted that the advertising campaign his group launched in the Jewish media early this month is far less extensive than the RJC campaign.

“We acknowledge that we don’t have as much money as they do,” Goldenberg said. “But the real question is how many places is NJDC playing some type of role in the election, and I would tell you that in every battleground state, we’re playing some role.”

In recent weeks, the Democratic group has organized a series of conference calls between Democratic candidates and Jewish journalists, created a series of voter guides available on the Internet and been active in working with such prominent Democrats as Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, who held a press conference attacking Santorum as being soft on Iran. According to Goldenberg, the NJDC expects to spend at least $225,000 on campaign expenses by November 7, including print ads. In New Jersey, supporters of Menendez have run ads responding to the Republican Jewish attacks.

The NJDC’s advertisements accused Republicans of “playing politics” with the country’s historically bipartisan support for the Jewish state. According to a source familiar with the situation, future Democratic ads will stress that Jewish voters can vote Democratic without compromising their values, given the party’s support for Israel and its liberal stances on a host of domestic issues, ranging from stem-cell research to the separation of church and state.

So far, the Democratic ads have not challenged a central plank of the RJC’s message — that Bush and the GOP are strong on Israel. In sharp contrast, several Democratic candidates, including Ron Klein, challenger of incumbent Rep. Clay Shaw in South Florida, have argued that the foreign policy of the Bush administration — especially the war in Iraq — has made Israel less safe.

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