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CAMPAIGN CONFIDENTIAL

As the presidential campaign entered its final stretch, the candidates and their surrogates were concentrating harder than ever on bringing their messages to the Jewish community in swing states, especially in Florida.

President Bush attended a dinner Monday at the Boca Raton home of Ned Siegel, a wealthy Republican donor who is heavily involved in Bush’s campaign outreach to Jewish voters.

“It was not a Jewish crowd, but he talked about the importance of Israel’s security and the refusal to deal with [Yasser] Arafat,” said a top Bush fund raiser, fellow Texan Fred Zeidman. “I thought it was pretty interesting.”

That same day, Senator John Kerry headed to South Florida to address a rally of supporters in West Palm Beach. “We’ll do a better job of protecting the state of Israel than they are today,” Kerry was quoted as saying by The Associated Press. He pledged to help find a Palestinian interlocutor with which Israel could negotiate. “You don’t have one today, so you have to build a fence and you have to do what you are doing.”

Kerry even used a Hebrew phrase while attempting to demonstrate his pro-Israel bona fides.

“I’ve had the privilege of flying a jet in Israel, learning firsthand how tight that security is, how close the borders are, how tiny and fragile it is,” Kerry said. “I’ve climbed to the top of Masada, and I’ve stood on the top of Masada and yelled out, as the Air Force recruits and others used to from the side of that cliff, the words ‘Am Yisrael Chai’” (the nation of Israel lives).

Kerry told the crowd that he would do a better job than Bush of “holding those Arab countries accountable for funding terrorism.”

Once again, it seems, the Sunshine State — and its Jewish voters — could play a deciding role in selecting the winner come November.

Florida is so competitive, Zeidman joked, “If somebody wanted the president to come to his kid’s bar mitzvah, he would show up.”

Democrats are having the same experience. “I’ve never seen it so energized,” marveled Broward County chairman Mitch Ceasar. “Last week, I had [Senator] Joe Biden in one condo, and [Senator] Joe Lieberman in another condo later in the day.”

With the race still tight, Jewish surrogates for the candidates were bludgeoning each other. The Victory Fund, a fund-raising arm of the National Jewish Democratic Council, released the second installment of its controversial Internet cartoon for young voters, “Bubbie Versus the GOP.” The first installment, with biting jokes at the expense of President Bush and his top advisers, provoked cries of rage from Republicans last week and drew criticism from the Anti-Defamation League, which said the video relied on anti-Christian stereotypes.

Meanwhile, the Republican Jewish Coalition, ran a three-page advertisement in Jewish publications, in which it alleged that “leading Democrats blame Jews for the Iraq war or refuse to strongly support Israel.” The ad cites statements from several Democrats, including Rep. James Moran of Virginia, retiring Senator Ernest Hollings of South Carolina and former President Jimmy Carter.

“I think it speaks for itself,” said RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks, adding, “I think there is a risk in that Kerry does not have the attachment, sympathy and affinity for Israel that President Bush has.”

The executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, Ira Forman, said that he doesn’t spend any time worrying about ads put out by the Republican Jewish organization. Still, he said: “They need to get their basic facts straight.”

The latest Republican Jewish ad, Forman said, was filled with “out-of-context and old statements that do not deal with the central issues of this campaign, while totally ignoring their own president’s and party’s failings on these same issues.”

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