HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (RNS) Hilda Finkel has heard the Republican call that she should reconsider her support for President Barack Obama because he isn't sufficiently pro-Israel.
She has heard GOP nominee Mitt Romney accuse Obama of “throwing Israel under bus.” She has seen the billboards here in Broward County greeting Jewish voters with this plaintive message: “Oy vey Obama. Had enough yet?”
But she is unswayed. “I am Jewish, and I care about Israel, but the most important question is jobs and the economy,” Finkel, 94, said in an interview in this south Florida community. “I'm going with Obama.”
For all the efforts by the Romney campaign to court voters like Finkel, Obama's campaign is expressing growing confidence that they have been able to keep Jewish voters. According to the Gallup daily tracking poll between July 1 and Sept. 10, 70 percent of registered Jewish voters plan to vote for Obama vs. 25 percent for Romney. In the spring, polls showed Obama up 64-25 percent against a generic GOP candidate.
Obama will be back in Florida this week with stops in Coral Gables for a forum hosted by the Spanish-language network Univision and in Tampa for a fundraiser, and his campaign is stepping up efforts to secure the voting bloc Obama won by 74 percent to 21 percent over Sen. John McCain in 2008.
“There is very little Mr. Romney and (vice presidential candidate Paul) Ryan offer in their agenda — from the economy to health care to foreign policy — that a majority of Jewish Americans are comfortable with,” said Robert Wexler, a former Florida congressman who is serving as a surrogate to the Jewish community for Obama. “Conversely, Jewish Americans are comfortable with President Obama and his agenda.”
To make the case for Obama, the campaign has been sending Jewish politicians, including Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schulz, into battleground states with large Jewish communities. The campaign has also armed volunteers in Jewish communities with talking points to counter Romney's critiques of Obama.
Romney's central pitch to Jewish voters is that Obama has been less than a faithful friend to Israel. He has accused Obama of failing to understand the urgency of stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and has vowed to do the “exact opposite” in his relations with Israel if he is elected. And he notes Obama's tense relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu chafed at the White House pushing Israel to halt the building of settlements in East Jerusalem. Obama was also caught on a live microphone at the G-20 summit grumbling about Netanyahu with Nicolas Sarkozy, who was the president of France at the time.
Rabbi Kurt Stone, an Obama surrogate in South Florida, noted in an interview that Obama has increased military aid to Israel and backed Israel's building of the Iron Dome missile-defense system. Americans also came to the rescue of Israeli diplomats in Cairo when their embassy was attacked by a mob.
“One of the strongest arguments we have on the trail is taking Mr. Romney at his word that he'll do the exact opposite as President Obama on Israel,” said Stone, who led a discussion with Obama supporters Wednesday night (Sept. 19) in north Miami on how to defend Obama's Israel policies.
Romney advisers note that his standing with Jewish voters is a marked gain over McCain's.
“At 70 percent support, Obama would be suffering a significant drop (from 2008),” said Tevi Troy, a foreign-policy adviser to the Romney campaign. “The range between what George H.W. Bush got in 1992 (11 percent) and the high-water mark Reagan got in 1980 (39 percent) — we're right in the middle of that. If we go higher than 25 percent, that is good news for the Republicans.”
If Romney can make further headway with the Jewish voting bloc, it could help him win Florida — a crucial state that would drastically improve his chances of securing the 270 electoral votes needed to defeat Obama.
The Republican Jewish Coalition, which is backed by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, announced Wednesday that it has begun airing $5 million worth of television advertising targeting Jewish voters in Florida, Nevada, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
(Aamer Madhani writes for USA Today.)