In Fla., Republican Jews shower Gingrich with applause (if not necessarily votes)

Delray Beach, Fla.—Speaking on Friday at an event organized by the state’s Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) chapter, former House Speaker and Republican Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich struck a mostly professorial tone as he talked foreign policy to a friendly audience.

He may have been introduced as “the next president of the United States,” but Gingrich was still trying to convince the crowd of about 300, some of whom had already pledged their support to his Republican rivals, that he deserved their support in Florida’s primary election, being held on January 31.

“If, with your help, we carry this primary,” Gingrich said, “at that point, I believe, we’ll be a long way towards the nomination.” If nominated, he continued, “I believe that we can decisively defeat President Obama in a general election.”

Gene Goldberg, who has lived in Boca Raton for 30 years, was in the room. He’s supporting former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney because he doesn’t believe Gingrich can win in November.

“I think Gingrich is—” and then Goldberg turned to his wife of 27 years to ask for the word “—explosive. I think he’s a very intelligent man and knowledgeable. But he’s too explosive.”

“I’m not into cheating on your wives,” Goldberg added. “And he did it on both of them.”

Just one week after he decisively won the South Carolina primary, Gingrich is once again the underdog in the race for the Republican nomination.

A new Quinnipiac University poll showed him trailing former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney by nine points, likely the result of Romney’s campaign vastly outspending Gingrich’s in this large and important swing state. The attack ads targeting the former speaker being aired on Florida’s expensive airwaves, paid for by Super PACs affiliated with Romney, don’t help Gingrich’s chances, either.

At the RJC event, Gingrich did take a few shots at Romney, but his speech focused mostly on familiar territory: foreign policy, and specifically the Middle East.

If elected, Gingrich promised to enact a “very different strategy for the entire region.” He said that any efforts to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians had to wait until the Palestinians first accept Israel’s right to exist, relinquish any right of return, and “adequately quit teaching terrorism.”

“Until they do those three things, there is no peace process. This is a fraud,” Gingrich said. “And it’s a dangerous fraud because it always leads to one-sided pressure on Israel.”

When it came to Iran, Gingrich reiterated his belief that a nuclear Iran could endanger Israel. Talk of “a second Holocaust,” Gingrich said, wasn’t hyperbolic.

“If you’re going to go to Yad Vashem,” Gingrich said, referring to the Holocaust museum in Israel, “if you’re going to go around saying ‘Never again,’… then we had better act before it happens, not after it happens.”

That line, along with a few others, won a standing ovation from the audience, and there were certainly a number of Gingrich supporters in the crowd.

“I just think he’s a stronger person,” said Haley Joyce, a Gingrich backer who lives in nearby coastal town of Ocean Ridge. “He’s not a yes man.”

Joyce had just been interviewed by a journalist from another Jewish publication, and she said the conversation ended somewhat abruptly, when she told the interviewer that she wasn’t Jewish.

“This is why our country is so divided,” Joyce said, expressing frustration at those who describe themselves with hyphenated terms like Jewish-American or African-American. “Why can’t we all just be Americans?” she asked.

One Jewish-American, Peter Weisz, said he knew that many Jews were wary of supporting Gingrich, preferring to support Romney, for reasons that went beyond simple electability.

“They also feel that Romney is a little bit more, how shall I put it, acceptable taste-wise, for people that buy into a liberal agenda,” Weisz said. “He’s not as off-putting about abortion, etcetera. That’s why he’s gaining some support among Jews.”

But Weisz, who was holding a sketch of Gingrich he had made during the event (see photo), said that Jews voting for Romney should think twice about their choice.

“If you’re looking at a litmus test, which of these gentlemen is the most devoted Zionist,” Weisz said, “any investigation will tell you it’s got to be Gingrich.”

How Tuesday’s Republican primary will turn out is anyone’s guess. The first three states to vote turned up three different winners. The candidates have met for 19 televised debates. And yet the Republican party’s voters remain divided.

Romney is often referred to as the candidate of the Republican party’s establishment, and the endorsements he’s racked up are evidence of that. Arizona Sen. John McCain, who ran for President in 2008, has been stumping for Romney in Florida and Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, another surrogate, was actually present at Gingrich’s RJC event. I heard one Romney advertisement playing on a Spanish-language radio station that featured endorsements from prominent Latino elected officials, including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. 

But Adam Hasner, a former majority leader in the Florida State Legislature who is running for U.S. Senate, was also in the room on Friday, and he said he was, like many Republican voters, “still uncommitted.”

“I am in good company,” Hasner said, “because [former Florida Governor] Jeb Bush and [Florida Sen.] Marco Rubio have also not publicly declared which Presidential candidate they’re supporting,”