Florida has one of the largest Jewish populations in the United States, but the Jewish candidate in Tuesday’s Democratic primary appears to be barely a factor in the state.
Recent polls have given Hillary Clinton a nearly 2-1 lead over Bernie Sanders in Florida, including in the southern part of the state, where plenty of voters would seem to resemble Sanders more than his rival. The Clinton campaign’s Jewish outreach team has been on the ground in South Florida for months.
“Everything we can do to really help get the excitement up and to get people out to the polls,” said Sarah Bard, director of Jewish outreach for the campaign in an interview with the Forward as she shuffled between events in West Palm Beach.
Aside from Jewish voters, Clinton can also count on overwhelming support from black voters and the large Hispanic population. Florida’s electorate also skews famously older than almost any other state, making the landslides Sanders is posting among young voters less of a factor.
Sanders has won the endorsement of Alan Grayson, the liberal Jewish congressman from the Orlando area who is running for Senate.
With a comfortable margin among Floridians, Clinton’s campaign could have eased the pressure on the Jewish community. But instead the team enlisted current and former members of Congress to speak out to Jewish voters in meetings and one-on-one events across the southern tip of the state.
The goal may be to build an advantage among Jews that could carry on into other still-to-vote states like New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and California.
Clinton’s Jewish surrogates do not feel any sense of awkwardness when reaching out to Jewish voters and trying to convince them to vote against the only Jewish candidate to win states and delegates in a presidential race.
“I’m proud to support Secretary Clinton. That said, any Jew who had the opportunity to hear Senator Sanders’ comments at the debate about what it means being Jewish, has to be proud there is a leading political figure in our country who spoke openly like that about being Jewish,” said Congressman Ted Deutch, who has been combining his own re-election campaign with a move to reach out to Jewish voters in his district on behalf of Clinton.
“I’m thrilled he has spoken out and I’m excited about what Secretary Clinton will do as president,” Deutch added. Much of Clinton’s message to the Jewish community has to do with Israel and her support for the Jewish state, a message that may help her in other states.
“I talked about how I saw first hand her unsurpassed leadership on Israel as a senator from the state of New York,” said Rep. Steve Israel of New York.
The Clinton campaign chose not to respond directly to comments made by Sanders last week, in which he called for a more evenhanded approach on behalf of America when it comes to the Middle East. But interviews with current and former members of Congress speaking on behalf of Clinton made it clear these views are opposite to her view of the Middle East conflict.
“I disagree with Bernie as I disagree with Donald Trump who says that he is going to be neutral when it comes to Israel,” said Rep. Israel, who is not seeking reelection, during a brief stop in his schedule of meeting with Jewish voters.
Sanders may hope to lure liberal Jews who want to see a different approach to Middle East peacemaking. He may also seek to win significant numbers of Arab-American voters, who make up a bigger share of the electorate in Florida than elsewhere, after sweeping to victory among that community in last week’s Michigan primary win.
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 Ha’aretz 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. Contact Nathan at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman