Democrats are preparing to use their party’s nominating convention as a springboard to shore up Jewish support for President Barack Obama’s reelection effort, especially in crucial swing states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Along with a string of Jewish speakers, activists at the convention are being urged to tout what they see as Obama’s strong support for Israel, but to also stress social issues on which they believe he has a strong edge over Republican Mitt Romney.
Even though polls show the Jewish vote firmly in Obama’s camp already, campaign officials believe their efforts to win over undecided Jews could be crucial in an election expected to be decided by a razor thin margin.
In a training session for Jewish activists Monday at the Charlotte convention center, campaign official David Simas presented figures showing Obama with only a slight lead in many battleground states.
The Jewish vote, Democrats now estimate, could make a difference between victory and defeat for the president. If support for Obama among Jewish voters drops from the estimated 74% he got in 2008 to 68%, as tracking polls now show, the change in key states could be enough to swing the election. If Obama loses 10% of Jewish votes he won in 2008, that would translate to 85,000 votes in Florida, 41,500 in Pennsylvania and 19,000 in Ohio. Nevada, Colorado and Virginia are also key swing states in which there are significant numbers of Jewish voters.
At the three-day convention itself, there will be plenty of Jewish speakers to hone the message. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida congresswoman who heads the Democratic National Committee will officially open the convention on Tuesday. Wasserman Schultz will also be part of the warm up team for Obama’s speech on Thursday night. Other Jewish speakers during the convention in Charlotte will include Colorado congressman Jared Polis, Chicago mayor and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, New York Senator Charles Schumer, Congressman Steve Israel, who is also from New York, retiring congressman Barney Frank from Massachusetts, and Delaware Gov. Jack Markell.
The real push will come right after the convention wraps up, when activists fan out to swing states with large Jewish populations. Simas offered a list of talking points which the campaign believes highlight Obama’s achievements in his first term: Healthcare reform, ending the war in Iraq and setting a timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan, education, fair pay for women, environment, clean energy, immigration, LGBT rights, women’s health and support for the middle class.
Obama’s record on Israel, according to Ira Forman, national Jewish outreach director for the Obama campaign, should be the first issue raised in conversation with Jewish swing voters. But after mentioning Obama’s support for Israel’s security, surrogates and activists were urged to move on to domestic issues, where Democrats feel they have the edge when it comes to priorities of Jewish voters.
Helping out with the effort to counter Republican attacks regarding Obama and Israel is a new and somewhat lengthy video which praises the president’s support for Israel.
Democrats are also aware of the fact that their convention comes at a time when tensions between Obama and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu are reaching a new high, with both sides taking opposite views regarding a possible Israeli pre-emptive attack against Iran. Republican candidate Mitt Romney alluded to these differences in his acceptance speech in which he accused Obama of “throwing Israel under the bus” only to be met by an angry vice president Joe Biden who described Romney as wishing to take America to war.
Wasserman Schultz, speaking to Jewish activists at the convention, echoed Biden’s sentiments, saying that while all options for dealing with Iran are on the table, America is a “war-weary nation” and should refrain from “bellicose” remarks and from “chest beating.”
In an uncharacteristically passionate address to Jewish activists, Alan Solow, former chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations and a close friend of Obama, urged them to fight hard for every vote. He spoke out against what many Jews refer to the “kishkes factor,” the Yiddish term for gut feeling, that elusive sentiment that still makes some Jewish voters suspicious about Obama, the nation’s first black president.
“I really resent the kishkes question,” Solow said. “It reflects the kind of double standard our community should be ashamed of.”
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.