Obama garners 69 percent of Jewish vote in CNN exit poll


President Obama won 69 percent of the Jewish vote according to an exit poll.

The poll, posted on CNN's website, was commensurate with projections by preelection polls by Gallup, the American Jewish Committee, among others, that Obama would win between 65 and 70 percent of the Jewish vote.

Both parties blitzed Jewish voters in swing states, particularly Ohio and Florida, ahead of the election.

Jews constituted 2 percent of the overall CNN response group, but the network did not reveal the total number of people polled, so it was impossible to assess a margin of error.

Republicans noted the discrepancy between Tuesday's numbers and the 78 percent Obama garnered in 2008 exit polls.

Democrats, citing a more recent broader study of the 2008 results, now say Obama earned 74 percent of that year's Jewish vote, and suggested that Tuesday's showing was within the margin of error.

On social media, Republican and Democratic Jews argued over whether Tuesday night's results showed a substantial drop in Jewish support for Obama.

Two organizations — J Street and the Republican Jewish Coalition — planned to release separate exit polls on Wednesday morning.

Four more years (of bickering)


So the Jewish vote didn’t make much difference after all. Not even in Florida. Had Romney taken Florida, had he won this election, we could have argued that the 31 percent of Jews he was able to win over in the Sunshine State played an important role in his razor-thin victory. But he lost the election, Jewish gains notwithstanding. Thus, the first lesson, then, for Jewish Republicans like Sheldon Adelson should be as follows: If you have resources to spend on campaigning, if you are truly committed to the cause, spend your time and money assisting your party in winning over the people without whom elections cannot be won: Latinos. 

Saying the 2012 elections were not as important as the candidates (and many of us) said they were is easy. The two candidates were uninspiring, as is clear from the fact that neither of them was able to attract many crossovers from the other camp. Obama was supported by Democratic voters and Romney by Republicans. They masqueraded a heated debate over issues of great significance when, in fact, they were battling over a technicality: Who’s the better man to fix the economy – an issue most well-trained voters told pollsters is the “most important” for them. 

Believing the answers voters give is as dangerous as believing the candidates’ promises. Obama and Romney painted their race in ways favorable to their main cause – getting elected. But the voters were just as unreliable: They know what they need to say; they know what is expected of them. These elections early on were defined as being about “the economy” – hence, voters’ tendency to put the economy on top. However, putting the economy on top and then saying that Romney is the better candidate on the economy, and then giving Obama the White House, is exactly what American voters did, according to the exit polls. Elections are never about one issue and are almost always about how comfortable the electorate feels with the candidates. 

That more Jews felt comfortable with President Obama is not such a big surprise. No one really expected it to go any other way. It was also quite obvious that Obama will not win as strongly with Jewish voters as he did four years ago. As this article is being written, on Tuesday night, we don’t yet have all the detailed poll data that is scheduled to be released on Wednesday by both the Jewish Republican Jewish Coalition and by J Street pollster Jim Gerstein. However, early exit polls have revealed that Obama’s standings with Jews have declined to 70 percent of the vote. Did the vigorous campaign to peal away Obama Jewish voters work at all? Romney got 30 percent of the vote. And one suspects that both Jewish Democrats and Republicans will find a way to spin these results without admitting failure. 

They will be able to do it, among other reasons, because there’s never been true agreement on the percentage of the Jewish vote that went for Obama in 2008. Hence, there will be no agreement on the percentage of Jewish voters who’ve moved away from him and into the Republican column. A recent study argued that Obama’s actual Jewish number of 2008 was 74 percent — while the 2008 exit polls gave Obama 78 percent of the Jewish vote. So the scale of the decline depends how much you believe the new research. 

Those responsible for the new research want you to believe that this is the more serious analysis of the Jewish vote. But Republican Jews want you to believe that this study is a spin aimed at making Obama look better as his 2012 numbers drop. And they did drop: 8 percent fewer Jews voted for him, compared to the 2008 exit poll. Four percent fewer compared to the recent study. Whatever the final count, there’s no denying that the climb in Jewish Republican votes appears to be a continuation of a trend. In my book about the Jewish vote, I described the drop in the Republican Jewish vote since 1992 – in fact, I described the last two decades as the decades of the-Republican-Party-is-no-longer-an-option for Jews. But the graph of the Jewish vote for the Republican Party since that big drop of the early ’90s shows a slow but steady climb back to the party being an option.

On the morning of Election Day, I spent a couple of hours harassing Jewish voters in Beachwood Ohio, not far from Cleveland. These are precincts that went 71 percent-28 percent for Obama in 2008, 65 percent-35 percent for Kerry in 2004, and 77 percent-22 percent for Gore in 2000. I can’t tell you what the numbers will be like this time, but based on the dozen or so interviews I had time to do, it is likely that Romney got numbers in these precincts closer to those of the 2004 Bush than to the 2008 McCain. Possibly even higher. 

The story of the 2012 Jewish vote, then, is a story of a growing gap between the conservative wing of the community, a large part of it Orthodox, and the rest of the community, who remain loyal to the Democratic Party. Earlier this week, in Columbus, I made a pact with a local rabbi: I could ask any question and quote any answer, as long as I didn’t give away his identity. Not a hint, not a clue. Is it not problematic for a Jew in America to have such fear of exposing one’s political beliefs? – I asked him. The rabbi laughed. “You realize”, he said, “that my so-called fear has nothing to do with non-Jews – it is the Jews that I fear.” He then asked if I’d read Roger Cohen’s article in The New York Times about “The Jews of Cuyahoga County,” which, of course, I had. The rabbi didn’t like Cohen’s use of the word “ugly” at the outset of his article (“Things are getting ugly among the Jews of Cuyahoga County, with family splits and dinner invitations declined”), but he also gave the impression that at times things are, well, becoming ugly. Not for all Jews in Cuyahoga or Columbus, not in all families. But in some cases, it does – hence, the rabbi’s obsession about not wanting to be exposed. “If I get into political issues, I’m definitely going to alienate some people from one side or the other, and more likely from both sides.” These are days of tension and bickering and highly partisan spirit. These are days in which “hardly anyone can see both sides’ arguments.”

Having met and interviewed many Ohioan Jews during my week here, I discovered that it was easy to find Obama voters (“Is there even an alternative?” one Cleveland resident asked me), and also not very hard to find Romney voters (the easiest way: look for the Orthodox shul and the kosher deli), and was more rare, but still possible, to find the 2008-Obama-disappointee. But, truly, it was easier to find people who claim to know people disappointed with Obama than to find those disappointed people in person. “Yes, I have some friends that voted for Obama in 2008 and are now voting for Romney,” Jerry Mayer told me. Stewart Ain of The Jewish Week got a better quote from a Bret Caller: “I’ve had dozens and dozens of Jewish friends who voted for Obama in ’08 say to me that they are on the fence and will make a decision in the voting booth.”

And, one must admit, many of the Ohio Jews I met in recent days tended to think about Obama and Romney in the same dichotomist manner. Romney will “ban all abortions,” a weary Bev (or was it Deb? Forgive my insensitive Israeli ears) Hart explained, knowingly. Obama is “an enemy of Israel,” an angry Rob Gold told me. No article on the 2012 Jewish race can be concluded without some discussion of the Israel issue.

My first 2012 story on the U.S. election was published on Jan. 1, reported and written in Iowa, where Mitt Romney began his long journey to win the Republican primary election and become the nominee. I had a catchy headline for it: “Witnessing European Menace Invading Des Moines.” The only real foreign reference made by Romney in the political rally I attended that week “was not about the Middle East or even China,” I wrote back then. “Romney – and some of the other candidates as well – have made Europe a topic of political conversation. As in: If we continue to have policies like we have now, we might risk “ending up being like Europe.” I was reminded of this event and of that post, as I was listening on Sunday to Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, in a well-kept medium-size hanger, where he made a short landing in Mansfield, Ohio. Ryan was at his very best at that event, sharp and amicable. But he had no intention of talking about anything but the U.S. economy. 

I was waiting to hear a word or two about foreign affairs. Two days before an American election, as the whole world was watching, one would have been justified to expect at least a pretense interest on the part of the American candidates in what’s happening beyond America’s borders. But no such words ever quite materialized. Obama, when I saw him last week, seemed to have little interest in talking about foreign affairs. In fact, Obama made it a habit to tell American voters that electing him is important because he’s the candidate that will do “some nation building here in America.” Obama, like Romney, is an internationalist. But both of them felt a political need to make the world disappear in the final stretch of the election.  

For Israel, a less involved America is a convenience on some matters – such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – but really it’s a curse. Israel needs the United States to be leading the coalition against Iran, and needs the United States to project confidence and have influence in a region that becomes more volatile by the hour – recent exchanges of fire on the Syrian border being the most recent manifestation. Obama is likely not to have much appetite to be more engaged in the region, and even less appetite to have to deal with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, but will have no choice but to do it. 

Interestingly, not since Eisenhower has Israel had to make do with a president with whom it doesn’t quite get along for two consecutive terms. Carter, Ford and the first Bush – the three presidents at the top of Israel’s list of unfavorable presidents – were all one termers, annoying to Israel’s government, but gone quickly. With Obama, it will be eight years of bickering and mistrust and miscommunication, unless one of three things happens: If Netanyahu is not re-elected; if Obama or Netanyahu determine to put an end to the sour state of relations; or if the U.S. disengages. Option No. 1 will be an important component of Israel’s coming election – a tool that Netanyahu’s rivals are going to use in hopes of convincing Israelis that the relations with Obama are reason enough for them to replace the prime minister. Option No. 2 is the preferable option – the grown-up option – and hence the less likely one. Option No. 3 is the most dangerous of them all. Better for Obama and Netanyahu to keep the bickering going – and with it the involvement of the United States in Israel-related affairs. 

Cheers turn to jeers at GOP event


Amid life-sized cutouts of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, Republicans gathered in a backroom at the Daily Grill in Santa Monica on Tuesday night to watch Fox News election returns on two large screens. 

The mood was festive as the evening kicked off with drinks and appetizers and the waiters set down oversized plates of pasta and chicken on tables decorated with red, white and blue tinsel centerpieces.

Richard and Lauren Gordon sat at a back table, nursing drinks. Richard, a business owner is a Romney supporter; Lauren, director of a child advocacy organization, is a die-hard Democrat. Their three children — the youngest is 17 — are split.

“We try to be open and respectful of each other,” Lauren said, acknowledging that election season gets exciting. “We respect each other’s opinions, and we do a lot of fact checking. It makes for very interesting conversation.”

The couple came to support Robert Kronovet, a Republican who found out after the party that he had lost his bid to be reelected to the Santa Monica Rent Control Board, which he sat on since 2008. Kronovet co-hosted the party with American Freedom Alliance, Santa Monica Republican Headquarters Committee and Westside Republicans.

While the crowd let out whoops and cheers as Fox News projected North Carolina and then Missouri for Romney, the mood quickly sobered as a reporter announced in a dour voice that Ohio was projected to land in Obama’s column. 

Cries of “no” and “boo” arose, and a brief resurgence of energy came with Fox’s announcement that the Republican Party had not yet given up on Ohio.

But as the evening wore on, some people mouthed, “It’s over,” and left the party.

Kronovet — whose vaguely New York accent and cheery irony could make him a character on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” — wasn’t surprised with how the election turned out. 

“The Republican Party has got to step away from women’s health issues and let the world know it’s not our business. We have enough problems. I know about all the issues, and what the Orthodox say, and I’m a Chabadnik, but losing an election like this is silly — it’s just silly. The party needs to get back to the very basics,” Kronovet said, stopping now and then to shake a hand and offer reassurance to supporters.

The Republican social platform leaves little room for moderates, he said.

“There may be Democrats who like the Republican economic policies, but when they throw something in their face that is so repulsive, they’re going to get the same results every time,” he said.

Kronovet had his share of supporters in the room, both Republicans and Democrats, who agreed with his stance on rent control. 

“I try to represent the housing providers. And I try to be gracious and bring a balance of supply and demand,” he said. 

Kronovet said he is not despondent about Obama’s win. He said that historically, second-term presidencies have been better for the economy.

“I hope Obama does well. I don’t want him to do badly. What kind of schmuck wants the president to do badly?” Kronovet said. “That’s stupid — that’s a horrible thing to say. Ridiculous. But I know people who want that.”

Networks project Obama wins re-election as U.S. President


President Barack Obama won re-election to a second term in the White House on Tuesday, television networks projected, beating Republican challenger Mitt Romney after a long and bitter campaign.

Obama defeated Romney in a series of key swing states despite a weak economic recovery and persistent high unemployment as U.S. voters decided between two starkly different visions for the country.

Obama's victory in the hotly contested swing state of Ohio – as projected by TV networks – put him over the top in the fight for the 270 electoral votes needed to clinch the White House and ended Romney's hopes of pulling off a string of swing-state upsets.

Obama scored narrow wins in Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire – all states that Romney had contested – while the only swing state captured by Romney was North Carolina, according to network projections.

There was no immediate word from the Romney camp on the reported results.

At least 120 million American voters had been expected to cast votes in the race between the Democratic incumbent and Romney after a campaign focused on how to repair the ailing U.S. economy.

Obama enters his second four-year term faced with a difficult task of tackling $1 trillion annual deficits, reducing a $16 trillion national debt, overhauling expensive social programs and dealing with a gridlocked U.S. Congress that looked likely to maintain the same partisan makeup.

Obama's projected victory would set the country's course for the next four years on spending, taxes, healthcare, the role of government and foreign policy challenges such as the rise of China and Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Each man offered different policies to cure what ails America's weak economy, with Obama pledging to raise taxes on the wealthy and Romney offering across-the-board tax cuts as a way to ignite strong economic growth.

Inside Obama's Chicago campaign headquarters, staffers erupted into cheers and high fives as state after state was called for the president.

Obama watched the returns on television at his Chicago home. Senior campaign strategist David Axelrod said via email that he was feeling “great.”

Romney made last-minute visits to Ohio and Pennsylvania on Tuesday to try to drive up turnout in those states, while Vice President Joe Biden was dispatched to Ohio. Obama remained in his hometown of Chicago.

Obama’s second term: More of the same, at least until Iran flares


The day after the election looks a lot like the day before for President Obama, particularly in areas that have attracted the attention of Jewish voters: Tussling with Republicans domestically on the economy and health care, and dancing gingerly with Israel around the issue of a nuclear Iran.

With Obama's victory over Republican challenger Mitt Romney, the Senate remaining in the hands of Democrats and the U.S. House of Representatives staying Republican, that means more of the same, said William Daroff, who directs the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America.

“What's amazing from a political point of view is that it's hundreds of millions dollars being spent and it's still the status quo,” he said.

The advantage, Daroff said, is that the sides get back to work, and straight away.

“There's not going to be a delay in everyone feeling out their new roles and figuring out what color the rug in the Oval Office should be,” he said.

Jewish federations and other Jewish social welfare organizations have said their immediate focus will be the “fiscal cliff” — the effort to head off sequestration, the congressional mandate to slash the budget across the board at the start of 2013.

“The fiscal cliff and specifically sequestration is a major concern,” Daroff said. “Our concern continues to be that as the nation and our political leaders continue to assess how to make cuts in spending that those cuts don't fall disproportionately on vulnerable populations that rely upon social service agencies that depend on our funding.”

Cuts of about 8.5 percent would immediately affect the viability of housing for the elderly, according to officials at B'nai B'rith International, which runs a network of homes. Officials at Jewish federations say the cuts also would curb the meals and transportation for the elderly they provide with assistance from federal programs.

Obama and Congress would have had to deal with heading off sequestration in any case, but as a president with a veto-wielding mandate of four more years, he has the leverage to head off deep cuts to programs that his top officials have said remain essential, including food assistance to the poor and medical entitlements for the poor and elderly.

David Makovsky, a senior analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Obama's priorities would be domestic.

“While a victory in the second term tends to give you some political capital, capital is still finite,” he said, citing George W. Bush's failure in 2005 to reform Social Security, despite his decisive 2004 triumph. “This suggests to me the president will keep his focus on the economy and health care,” and not on major initiatives in the Middle East.

More broadly, four more years of “Obamacare” mean the health care reforms that Obama and a Democratic Congress passed in 2010 will be more difficult to repeal for future GOP administrations. By 2016, American voters will have habituated to mandates guaranteeing health insurance for all, including for pre-existing conditions and coverage of children by their parents until they reach the age of 26.

On these issues — entitlement programs and federal assistance for the poor — Obama and Senate Democrats have the backing of an array of Jewish groups led by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the community’s public policy umbrella.

Additionally, Jewish advocacy organizations will look to Obama to appoint to the Supreme Court justices likely to uphold the protections favored by much of the Jewish community, including abortion rights, women’s equal pay guarantees and gay marriage gains in the states.

The exception will be the Orthodox groups, which generally align with conservative Christians on social issues.

The potential for domestic tension between some Jewish groups and the new Obama administration — and its Democratic allies who continue to lead the Senate — lies in Democrats’ plans to let lapse some of the tax cuts passed by the George W. Bush administration.

Senate Democrats in recent years have pressed organized Jewish groups to advocate for raising revenue through tax increases. Some groups have advocated for the increases, but the major social welfare policy umbrella, the Jewish Federations of North America, has resisted in part because tax hikes are controversial among a substantial portion of the federations’ donor base.

Daroff said that Jewish federations would continue to push for keeping the tax deduction rate for charitable giving at 35 percent and resist Obama administration proposals to cut it to 28 percent.

“We see from the response to Hurricane Sandy how vital charities are,” he said. “To put stumbling blocks in the way of our ability to raise charitable funds is the absolutely wrong policy.”

Unlike the looming sequestration, Obama’s most vexing first term foreign policy issue — how to deal with Iran — has gained some breathing room in recent weeks with the Obama administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arriving at an agreement that Iran will not be poised to manufacture a nuclear weapon until the spring at the earliest.

Without intimations by Israel that it might strike before then, Obama has a window to see if the tightened international and U.S. sanctions introduced during his administration will goad the Iranians into making their nuclear program more transparent. Iran’s government insists its nuclear program is peaceful but has resisted probative U.N. inspections.

Makovsky said he expected a quick return to talks with Iran, which could lead to bold new proposals, setting some of the bottom lines that have been eagerly sought by Israel. Makovsky said one scenario could be removing some sanctions in exchange for keeping Iranian uranium enrichment at 5 percent, down from the 20 percent level it currently achieves and well below the 93 percent that would make a weapon.

Another Iranian give, he said, would be to export the stockpiles of enriched uranium already on hand.

“I would predict there will be much more of a focus on bottom lines, there will be some sort of an American offer — after consultations with Israel,” Makovsky said.

Two personnel changes in the coming months in both Israel and the United States will help shape how the two nations interact.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has long-standing relationships with much of the Israeli leadership, has said she is certain to quit, and there is much speculation about her successor.

Three names have been touted — Tom Donilon, the national security adviser; Susan Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations; and U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Of the three, only Donilon has warm relations with his Israeli interlocutors. Rice has steadfastly defended Israel against formal condemnation at the United Nations, but Israeli and pro-Israel officials have been galled by the tough language she has used to describe Israeli settlement expansion.

Kerry raised some eyebrows with his sharp language about Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip following the 2009 war with Hamas. And some conservatives questioned his insistent outreach to the Assad regime in Syria prior to the protests that set off the regime's bloody oppression and the country's resulting civil war.

The other personnel change is in Israel and will be closely watched by the Obama administration. Elections there are scheduled for January, and Netanyahu and his new right-leaning alliance with Avigdor Lieberman, currently the foreign minister, may be facing a serious centrist challenge.

So, who are you voting for?


For Miriam, an outspoken woman in her 80s who wouldn’t give her last name, there isn’t the slightest possibility she will vote against President Barack Obama on Election Day. 

“Maybe we all don’t have to worry about becoming pregnant, obviously,” Miriam said, addressing the five other women, ages 60 to 90, who had stayed after their Tuesday morning exercise class at the Westside Jewish Community Center to speak with a reporter. “But what if a 15-year-old does become pregnant in high school? Should the child have a baby that she does not want and perhaps ruin her life? Absolutely not! And therefore, what the hell do I care what a Republican says?” 

A day later, and a dozen miles north, Linda Stern sat at a table at Nagila Pizza, a kosher joint on Ventura Boulevard in Encino. Stern voted for John McCain in 2008; this year her family donated to the campaign of the Republican nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. 

A member of Valley Beth Shalom, Stern said she will be voting for Romney on Nov. 6 because she believes he’ll boost the economy and because he’s said he won’t cut military funding. 

“I’ll be thinking about who’s going to protect this country, and maintain what makes this country great,” she said, “and who will support our friends and not support our enemies.” 

As different as these two women are — one lives in the Valley, the other in the city; one is a Republican, the other a Democrat; one looks to be at least 35 years younger than the other — the two women share a common trait: Neither is a single-issue voter. 

“I know people who cast their ballots solely on abortion issues,” Stern said. “I am definitely a broad-spectrum voter. But shouldn’t we all be?” 

Miriam, meanwhile, may fiercely disagree with the Republicans’ strict anti-abortion platform, but that’s hardly the only reason she’s voting for Obama. She extolled the president’s health-care overhaul bill for providing access to affordable insurance for 32 million Americans who currently lack coverage, a law Romney has said he would repeal as soon as he’s elected. Miriam also she said she has serious concerns about the integrity of the Republican challenger. 

“I can’t vote for a president like Romney, charming as he is, although that doesn’t sit well with me; handsome as he is, and that doesn’t sit will with me; who says one thing and then says another when it’s expedient,” Miriam said. “How do we know when he’s ever telling the truth?”

Whether any single issue can determine how Jews will cast their ballots in 2012 is a question at the center of a public debate within the Jewish community (see sidebar). Israel, Iran, jobs, the economy, reproductive rights — any one of these is the bottom-line issue for at least some Jews in this contentious election season. In a quest to reveal what is on the minds of Jewish voters this year, at least in Los Angeles, we canvassed the streets and attended many recent Jewish events throughout the region. 

As it turns out, most Jewish voters appear to be deciding with multiple factors in mind. 

“I think the economy is a big issue,” Adeena Bleich said on the evening of Oct. 22 at a presidential debate-viewing get-together at the Jewish Federation building on Wilshire Boulevard. “My husband was out of work for almost two years, so that’s one of the things I’ll be thinking about.” 

Bleich works at a management company in West Los Angeles that services volunteer and professional associations, and she came to watch the debate with a co-worker. She said she’s also considering the differences between Romney and Obama on health-care policy, looking at the candidates’ relationships with Israel, and scanning their actions and policies for evidence that they “genuinely care about the American people.” 

A registered Democrat, Bleich grew up in Connecticut and said she’s been a multi-issue voter since even before she could vote. “I remember when I was a little girl, my parents would sit us down and explain why we were voting for a particular candidate,” she said. 

On-screen at the front of the room, the debate between Obama and Romney kept coming back to the subject of Israel. Jenny Root, Bleich’s co-worker, said she would also be voting based on a range of issues, but as for Obama and Israel, she said she believes the president’s description of his visits to Yad Vashem and Sderot in 2008 — which went over well with the vocal Democrats in the crowd — was irrelevant. 

“That was during his candidacy, not during his presidency,” the self-described moderate Republican said. 

Bleich, for her part, noted that the two candidates seemed to be espousing very similar policies on Israel. 

“They are,” Root conceded. “But Obama’s been blowing off Bibi for years.” 

As he has throughout the campaign, Romney attacked Obama during this third debate for allegedly wanting to put “daylight” between the United States and Israel. In their multimillion-dollar effort to persuade Democratic Jewish voters to abandon the president, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) has enthusiastically taken up the argument that Obama, who has a frosty relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been less friendly to Israel than a President Romney would be. 

But a national poll taken in September by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) showed the vast majority of American Jews plan to vote based on economic concerns, outnumbering 4-to-1 Jewish voters who will consider Israel or the Iranian nuclear threat while casting their ballots. 

That same poll also found that American Jews can be expected to continue their decades-long record of turning out at the polls in disproportionately high numbers and supporting Democratic candidates at rates higher than any other group of white voters. Sixty-five percent of those polled by AJC said they will vote for Obama this year, while only 24 percent said they will vote for Romney. 

Despite such poll results, Republican Jews have worked hard this year to make Obama’s perceived unfriendliness to Israel into as much of a political liability for the president as possible. 

With $6.5 million in funding from Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and others, the RJC has made large purchases of airtime, targeting a few swing states — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada and, of course, Florida — running ads that hammer home the message that some Jews who voted for Obama in 2008 have been disappointed by his performance and claiming that no Jew who cares about Israel should trust the president.

How effective these ads are depends upon the individual. “We’re inundated,” said Rabbi Yocheved Mintz of Congregation P’nai Tikvah, a Reconstructionist/Renewal community of fewer than 100 families in Las Vegas. Mintz, who received her rabbinic ordination from the Academy of Jewish Religion and now sits on the board of the Los Angeles-based nondenominational seminary, is a committed Obama supporter. She called the RJC spots “vitriolic.” 

“You wake up in the morning, and you’ve got ads,” she said. “Between shows, constantly, it’s nonstop.” 

Beyond the advertisements, the RJC has been working to make person-to-person contact with Jewish voters and has custom-built a database of Jewish voters in swing states for this election. Using its database, the RJC has marshaled Republican Jews in uncontested states to make phone calls into swing states in the hopes of swaying some small — but potentially significant — percentage of the Jewish voters who live there. The goal, as explained in e-mails to Los Angeles RJC members, is not to win in Los Angeles, but to “win from Los Angeles.”

That Republicans won’t win the presidential race in California, let alone in Los Angeles, is practically a given. As for the Republicans who have been intimating that 2012 could be the year the party makes significant inroads into the Jewish community nationally, Eric Bauman, chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, isn’t buying it. 

“The Log Cabin Republicans,” Bauman said, referring to the organization of gay Republicans, “make a lot of noise, make it seem like they’re a major fighter in any given election. But gay Republicans, just like Jewish Republicans, make up less than one-third of the vote, and that’s going to be the same this time.”

At Reform synagogues, Bauman said he hears “about 90 percent support” for Obama, but support for Romney is markedly higher in more observant Jewish communities. At the two Valley synagogues Bauman regularly attends, he said, the breakdown is very different. 

“When I go to Adat Ari El, which is Conservative, it is split slightly more Democratic than Republican. When I go to Shaarey Zedek [an orthodox synagogue], it is substantially more Republican,” Bauman said, “though I always find it humorous that all the Democrats come up to me and quietly tell me they’re Democrats.”

Rabbis for Romney


Many political organizers talk about themselves as reluctant activists, but when Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg said it wasn’t his intention, initially, to establish the group Rabbis for Romney, it’s hard not to believe him.

“I don’t hate Obama, and I don’t glorify Romney,” said Rosenberg, a 64-year-old Orthodox-ordained rabbi who leads Congregation Beth-El, a conservative synagogue in Edison, N.J. “I just know what I have, and I’m not happy with what I have, so I’m willing to throw the dice with someone new.”

Rosenberg, who said he is a registered Democrat who voted twice for President Bill Clinton, launched Rabbis for Romney in September with little more than an organization name and a solicitation e-mail. Even today, aside from a list that he won’t share of what he says are 100 rabbis’ names, the group doesn’t have much of a presence on the Web or on the campaign trail.

Its entire reason for being, Rosenberg said, is not so much to oppose the re-election of President Barack Obama as to oppose the members of Rabbis for Obama who have endorsed him.

“I don’t think there should be rabbis for anybody,” Rosenberg said. “But then 613 rabbis decided they were going to make a whole to-do in the press, and that’s wrong.”

Those 613 Rabbis for Obama helped reignite a long-running debate about whether Jewish clerics should take positions on political issues.

But unlike those rabbis, who all have made their names public, and who include some pulpit rabbis, next to nothing is known about the majority of the Rabbis for Romney group.

Rosenberg, who said he received hate mail in response to organizing Rabbis for Romney, would not release the names of the rabbis who have contacted him to join the group, but he did disclose that every rabbi on his list of about 100 is male. Eighty percent of the Rabbis for Romney are Orthodox-ordained; the rest are Conservative, he said. Some work for synagogues, others as educators, and still others are retired. None lives on the West Coast, but some live in Israel, Rosenberg said. 

Although the group is called Rabbis for Romney, at least some of its members appear to be inspired more by antipathy for Obama than by love for the Republican nominee.

Rabbi David Algaze of Havurat Yisrael, an Orthodox synagogue in Queens, N.Y., is co-chairman of Rabbis for Romney. Speaking to The Jewish Star of Long Island, N.Y., Algaze reportedly said the “main purpose [of Rabbis for Romney] is to counter the impression of Rabbis for Obama.”

Calling Obama “one of the most hostile” presidents toward Israel and the Jews, Algaze told The Jewish Star that “Romney will do even better for Israel. We saw his presentation of [God] and values rather than the atheistic and other values of Obama.”

Rosenberg was less sanguine than was Algaze about Romney — “I don’t know the guy, I never went out to dinner with him” — but was no less opposed to Obama’s re-election.

“I don’t trust Obama,” Rosenberg said. “I’m not saying he’s been bad to Israel; I’m not one of those guys. I just don’t like his apologizing to the Arab world. I don’t like him dealing with extremist Muslims. He’s not my cup of tea.”

And though Rosenberg said he hoped Romney, if elected, would take a different tone in his interactions with Israel than Obama has, the rabbi acknowledged that such talk is, at this point, purely speculative. Nevertheless, Rosenberg said the Republican could count on his vote. 

“With me, Romney is going to be a better president because, economically, he knows something about business,” he said. 

Israel features prominently in final debate


The U.S.-Israel alliance and the need to keep Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon were major themes in the final presidential debate.

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney said Monday during their foreign policy debate that they would stand with Israel in an attack by Iran.

“Israel is a true friend,” Obama said when debate moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS News asked the candidates whether they would see an attack on Israel as an attack on the United States. “It is our greatest ally in the region. And if Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel.”

Romney, the Republican hopeful, concurred.

“I want to underscore the same point the president made, which is that if I'm president of the United States, when I'm president of the United States, we will stand with Israel,” Romney said at the debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. “And if Israel is attacked, we have their back, not just diplomatically, not just culturally, but militarily.”

Along with Iran, China, Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan, Israel was among the most mentioned countries at the debate.

Obama, who has faced attacks from Romney on his approach to Israel, was the first to mention the Jewish state when he outlined at the beginning of the debate how he was dealing with the unrest roiling the Middle East.

“It is absolutely true that we cannot just beat these challenges militarily,” Obama said, “and so what I've done throughout my presidency and will continue to do is, No. 1, make sure that these countries are supporting our counterterrorism efforts; No. 2, make sure that they are standing by our interests in Israel's security, because it is a true friend and our greatest ally in the region.”

Romney later accused Obama of distancing the United States from Israel.

“I think the tension that existed between Israel and the United States was very unfortunate,” Romney said in arguing that he would better stand by U.S. allies. 

Obama countered that during his presidency, military and intelligence cooperation with Israel was “unprecedented.”

Israel returned as a topic in one of the debate's most heated exchanges when Romney reminded Obama that he had not visited the country during a 2009 Middle East tour.

“By the way, you skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region, but you went to the other nations,” Romney said. “And by the way, they noticed that you skipped Israel.”

Obama responded by first noting that he had visited Israel and U.S. troops abroad as a candidate — a reference to criticism of Romney for not visiting troops during his campaign travels abroad. He also attacked Romney for organizing a fundraiser during his own Israel trip in July.

“And when I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn't take donors, I didn't attend fundraisers, I went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself the — the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable,” Obama said.

“And then I went down to the border towns of Sderot, which had experienced missiles raining down from Hamas. And I saw families there who showed me where missiles had come down near their children's bedrooms, and I was reminded of — of what that would mean if those were my kids, which is why, as president, we funded an Iron Dome program to stop those missiles.”

Third Presidential Debate [LIVESTREAM]


‘Israelis on Obama’ video: President ‘a mensch’ on Israel [UPDATE]


“President Obama is doing, in regards to our security, more than anything I can remember, ” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak says at the start of a new video created by The Jewish Council for Education & Research (JCER), a pro-Obama Super PAC. Barak’s comment is taken from a July 2012 CNN interview, and is just one of many interviews with Israelis in JCER’s new two-minute Web video aimed at garnering the pro-Israel vote (“Israelis on Obama“).

Promoting Obama as “a mensch” on Israel, the message is directed at “a small subset” of undecided Jewish voters for whom Israel policy might make a difference, according to Mik Moore, co-founder of JCER.

“I have never seen such measures of economic pressure taken against Iran as I see under President Obama’s Administration,” says Avinoam Armoni, CEO of Tel Aviv’s Bet Hatfutsot, The Museum of the Jewish People, says in the video. “I have faith that the United States and President Obama are true to their word.”

JCER is best known to date for producing expletive-filled web videos featuring actors Sarah Silverman and Samuel L. Jackson, but this new straight-faced video and Web Site, ObamaonIsrael.org, feature earnest testimonies from Israeli citizens praising Obama’s policies.

Israelis in the video also hail Obama’s funding of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, his administration’s sharing military intelligence with the Israeli intelligence services and the two countries’ staging of joint military exercises.

JCER, whose entire base of support adds up to less than $300,000, typically promotes its videos virally on the Web, but in this case, the message will also be delivered as a 30-second TV advertisement set to air in Florida on cable news channels next week.

The hope, Moore said, is to challenge the barrage of Web videos and advertisements on multiple platforms created by the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) claiming Obama is unfriendly to Israel.

“The Jewish vote is not going to turn on this issue,” Moore said in an interview on Oct. 18, noting that most Jews vote Democratic and will likely vote for Obama again in 2012.

“We want [the undecided voters] to make that decision with the facts about the President’s record on Israel,” Moore said.

The idea for the video came from Susan Silverman, a reform Rabbi who lives in Jerusalem and is the sister of comedian-activist Sarah Silverman. “I was sick and tired of the lies and misrepresentations spread by Republicans about Barack Obama’s record on Israel,” Silverman told the Journal in a telephone interview from Israel on Oct. 18.  

Silverman said she finds that the Israelis and American Jews who are fearful of Obama don’t have any particular evidence to back up their claims.

“One right-wing guy said to me, ‘Sure, he hasn’t’ done anything yet, but that’s because he’s saving it for his second term,’” Silverman said. “I feel like it’s the same stuff that fuels the ‘birther’ movement.”

Silverman spent last August filming many hours of interviews with Israelis in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Herzliya, but found one of the most compelling testimonies from a woman named Ruthie in Ofakim, a town near the Gaza border.

Ruthie, a childcare worker with three children and a fourth on the way, took issue with Romney’s assertion that, when it comes to Israe,l he would “do the opposite” of what Obama has done in his first term.

“‘Does he think that’s funny? Does he think it’s OK to be flippant?’” Silverman said, recalling Ruthie’s reaction. “‘Barack Obama has made us safer. I would like [Romney] to come with me to the bomb shelter with my children and see how terrified they are. Let him come with us, and then see how he flippant he can be.’”

The video arrives at a moment when Silverman’s sister, Sarah Silverman, has come under fire from some Jewish observers for her provocative and often off-color commentary in earlier JCER videos. In one, Silverman crudely propositions Republican Jewish mega-donor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has pledged to give $100 million in support of the Romney campaign this year, and has already given tens of millions of dollars to Republican candidates during this election cycle. Adelson is also a significant supporter of the RJC’s $6.5 million effort to attack Obama and his policies.

Story continues after the jump.

In an open letter to Silverman published in the Brooklyn-based Jewish Press this week, Orthodox Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt assailed Silverman for “making public that which is private,” urging her to marry and raise children. Writing in Tablet, Liel Leibovitz echoed part of Rosenblatt’s message, saying that Obama “could have asked for no worse endorsement than Silverman’s.”

Moore called the criticism of Silverman “a manufactured controversy, a media stunt by an obscure rabbi to elevate his own status on the back of a very successful entertainer and activist.” In the comments section of the online version of the paper, Silverman’s father also jumped into the fray, strongly defending his daughter.

For her part, Susan Silverman is fully supportive of her sister’s brand of political speech. “She’s a modern-day prophet,” Susan Silverman said.  “I couldn’t disagree more with that rabbi from Texas. Some people will choose to focus on the F-word when she uses it, and some choose to hear the message.”

Despite the Jewish reference in its name,  JCER isn’t exclusively focused on reaching Jewish voters, Moore said. One of its Web videos, featuring Latina actress Rosie Perez, skewers Romney’s statement “it’d be helpful to be Latino,” made at a Florida fundraiser secretly filmed and then publicized by Mother Jones.

Another video, titled “Wake the F**k Up,” features Samuel L. Jackson, and has been viewed over 1 million times on YouTube.

“Our videos are designed to appeal to Jews but aren’t narrowly tailored towards Jews,” Moore said. “They are largely meant for the Democratic base.”

What do (suburban) women want?


If you watched any of the debates on CNN, you saw two worms at the bottom of your screen. Well, they looked to me like worms, or maybe caterpillars, scrunching and stretching throughout the 90 minutes. Actually they were real-time graphs — with one color for men, another for women — recording the instant reactions of members of undecided focus groups to what they, and we, were watching. As they listened to the debate, these influential voters turned their hand-held dials up into the plus zone when they liked what they saw, and down when they didn’t. CNN calls this its “exclusive on-air undecided voters meter.” What they should call it is junk journalism.

How many voters? In the second presidential debate, 35 people in Ohio were wired to the worms. Actually, they weren’t completely undecided. As CNN anchor Erin Burnett explained, half of the 35 were for Obama, and half for Romney, but they said they might change their minds. I’m guessing the split was actually 18 to 17, or vice versa, unless they turned up one voter in Ohio who was split in two, half for Obama and half for Romney, or maybe they found someone all for Obama and all for Romney simultaneously — Burnett didn’t say. (The 35 were also split between men and women, suggesting that the odd man out was more precisely the odd man-woman out.)

I don’t know whether the TV screens these focus groups were watching carried the same CNN feed that I or anyone else in America might have been watching.  If they were — if their instant reaction to their own instant reaction could, in turn, instantly affect their own reaction — then Jorge Luis Borges and the makers of “The Matrix” have nothing on CNN.

Even for those of us in the audience not controlling the caterpillars, watching these meters’ ups and downs has been a strange experience. If you’re tuned to CNN, which brands itself as the only news network not committed to a candidate, your view of the debate is literally framed by the scrolling political vital signs of a non-nationally representative focus group. I bet it’s been pretty much impossible for anyone to watch the debates without paying attention to, and even being affected by, the impact of the candidates’ and moderators’ words and body language on this sample of a teeny tiny but immensely empowered sliver of the American electorate.

This made me a little bit crazy, especially when I found myself yelling “Yes!” to some things, like the president’s rediscovered willingness to nail his opponent, which the yellow line of undecided women didn’t much like at all. I was torn between feeling genuinely good about my guy getting his mojo back, but also wanting him to win over these voters who still can’t make up their minds despite all they’ve heard; whose belief in can’t-we-all-get-along comity is a suicidal strategy for countering ruthless Republican obstructionism; and who nevertheless are the magical swing voters in the magical swing states with the muscle to decide the election.

Framing a successful debate performance as the successful seduction of 35 undecided Ohioans disses other criteria for success. The meter readout of a group of people that, say, regularly consumes newspapers or watches “The Daily Show,” would likely take a different path. That graph might not predict how swing voters will break on Election Day, but it also might not discount the premium that at least some citizens want other citizens — and journalists — to put on facts, context, reason, history and reality.

Of course no one’s being forced to watch CNN’s swing-o-meter. But it can’t be long before real-time tabulation of the sentiments of various audience segments becomes an expected and common element of all infotainment. As we watch the TV screen, we’re already learning in real time what topics and attitudes are trending on social media, either because we’re simultaneously checking out another screen, like the Twitter feed on our smartphones (guilty), or because that information is embedded in the crawl at the bottom of the TV screen. The most popular news Web sites are already telling us which of their stories are the most popular right now so that we can check them out and make them even more popular. Self-surveillance is entertaining; we enjoy learning about us. But when technology puts a finger on the civic scale, when it skews what we esteem in political discourse, when it privileges popularity over other criteria for worth, an instant-reaction gizmo isn’t just fun, it’s potentially as subversive as the Electoral College, Citizens United or the ascendance of post-truth politics. 

This election will likely come down to the last-minute decisions of a few thousand people in a handful of states. Both campaigns conduct nightly tracking polls sensitive enough to detect each passing zephyr in undecided voters’ minds. They’re constantly testing phrases and issues to figure out what will move the meter for single noncollege undecided women in the suburbs of Columbus and Orlando, or whoever the decisive ones turn out to be at the end of the trail. Media organizations are also collecting increasingly subtle data about their audiences, some of them swapping editorial judgment for real-time metrics about what their customers want so that they can give them more of it. Micro-pandering: that’s how you win elections and ratings these days, and yes, winning is what counts. But I can’t help fantasizing about an alternative reality where candidates and coverage don’t routinely blow off the highest common denominators in their publics.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

A debate party turned sober


“It’s nerve-wracking for me to watch this debate,” said Julie Moss, 26, while watching the first of three U.S. presidential debates, on Oct. 3, on a flat-screen TV above a cocktail bar at Lola’s Restaurant.

Moss was among a crowd of left-leaning young adults at a party to watch President Barack Obama debate Mitt Romney at an event organized by Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, which tackles domestic issues as a progressive and Jewish voice. The event drew more than 50 guests, who packed the West Hollywood restaurant’s bar area.

“I enjoy the debates,” said David Weiner, leaning against a pool table, “almost as much as the martini.”

He wasn’t the only one. Documentary editor Alex MacKenzie, 29, and a friend enjoyed drinks and appetizers in a booth in the rear of the room; Aron Klein, 29, sat drinking an Amaretto sour, alongside other 20-somethings. As the candidates spoke, Bend the Arc CEO Alan van Capelle had a drink in one hand and his phone in the other, as he sent out tweets about the debate.

The bartender tried his hardest to silently take orders so as not to be heard over the sound of the television, but chatter drowned out the candidates’ responses anyway. In fact, the event could have been mistaken for a singles’ event, with all the mixing and mingling.

While many expressed dissatisfaction with the president’s performance, they said Wednesday’s debate would likely not affect their support for Obama.

“I don’t think he is showing how strong of a president that he is and will be,” said Klein, assistant manager at the Jewish Family Service/SOVA Community Food and Resource Center on Pico Boulevard.

Unlike, say, Washington D.C., Los Angeles might not be known as a city filled with politically active young adults, but Capelle said the crowded bar on Wednesday was proof of young L.A. Jews engagement in civic life.

“There’s something happening in Los Angeles that I don’t see when I travel around the rest of the country,” he said, “which is a vibrant, dynamic, engaged, young Jewish population that deeply wants to be involved in civic engagement.”

Rosner’s ‘Voter’s Guide’ offers an insider’s view


Every four years, the same question is asked in America: Which candidate will win the Jewish vote? With the 2012 presidential election teetering on a razor’s edge, however, the question takes on new importance and even a certain poignancy. That’s exactly why it caught the attention of political reporter and analyst Shmuel Rosner in “The Jewish Vote: Obama vs. Romney: A Voter’s Guide” (Jewish Journal Books: $9.99 paperback, $8 Kindle edition). After all, as Rosner sees it, as many as 5 million Jewish voters may go to the polls next month, and that could be enough to make a difference in an election as close as this one.

“That is not to say that where the Jews go, America also goes,” concedes Rosner. But, at the same time, he insists that “Jews are seen as major political players, because they believe that their vote really counts.”

Shmuel Rosner, of course, is senior political editor of the Jewish Journal, and “The Jewish Vote” is the first title to be published by Jewish Journal Books, a newly launched publishing imprint of TRIBE Media Corp. He’s one of our own, but his analysis is also worthy of attention on its own merits.

It’s significant that Rosner is an accomplished Israeli author and journalist who is writing for an American readership in “The Jewish Vote,” which underscores how much is at stake for the Jewish state in the American presidential elections. Rosner believes that Romney stands to gain the most by cutting into the traditional Democratic edge among Jewish voters: “If he gets 30 percent or more of the Jewish vote — not an easy benchmark — it’s almost like getting an insurance policy against losing.”

Rosner enters the debate between the polarities of what he calls “the-Republican-Party-is-not-an-option-for-most-Jews era” and “the Israel-as-wedge-issue era.” He sees a new geopolitical landscape in which “Republicans [are] drawing closer to Israel, and dangers [are] drawing closer to Israel.” He acknowledges that some Jewish voters do not even consider their Jewishness when they go to the polls, but he divides those who do into two camps: “a more utopian Judaism and a more hard-nosed Judaism.” 

He is tough-minded and blunt when it comes to his take on the Jewish community in America. He suggests that progressive Jews are drawn to the Democratic party because of their allegiance to “the new religion of humanistic values (as interpreted by the modern priests of humanistic religion — namely, university professors and ‘tikkun olam’ activists)” and he contrasts them with Jewish Republicans, for whom, he says, “[V]oting for a political party is not like lighting candles: it is a political deed, not a religious one.” He characterizes his own lively book, however, as a bipartisan effort to “focus on issues that are markedly ‘Jewish’ ” and to thereby enable Jewish voters to make an informed decision between Obama and Romney.

Significantly, the issues of greatest concern to Jewish voters do not necessarily include Israel. One survey placed the economy and health care at the top of the list, and “the growing gap between the rich and the poor” ranked higher than either Israel or “the danger of Iran” in another poll. That’s why, Rosner writes, “For Mitt Romney to find [the] hidden key with which to release the Jewish lock on Democrats would require much  more than talking about his affinity for Israel.” And that’s why “Obama had the wisdom to give Jewish voters some pride that is unrelated to Israel, to remind them that they and Obama are both members of the same community of ‘justice.’ ”

Intriguingly, Rosner insists that “[Sarah] Palin is Romney’s problem with Jewish voters” — or, as he goes on to suggest, “the shadow she casts over the Republican Party.”  It’s an example of the acuity of his political vision; Rosner understands that even those Jewish voters who are attracted to Romney may feel alienated by a Republican Party “in which religious Christians have a greater voice, in which heartland America has a greater voice, in which Palin can be a candidate, in which Paul Ryan can be a candidate.”

Then, too, Rosner points out that Romney’s staunch support of Israel can be unsettling, rather than reassuring, to Jewish voters. After all, when Romney invokes Israel, the Mormon candidate is courting the Evangelical Christian vote as much as, if not more than, the Jewish vote. “If Romney can’t quite win over this vast pool of voters by force of his religious beliefs,” explains Rosner, “he can still convince them that, on matters important to them, he will pursue policies they will find more palatable.”

Obama comes under the same close and discerning scrutiny. “The list of Obama-induced assistance to Israel’s security is indeed very long, as Israeli officials readily admit,” he writes. But he also reminds us that Obama touched a nerve in the Jewish community when he stated in 2008 that “there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel.” The statement takes on a new meaning when we consider Netanyahu’s outspoken interest in American party politics: “Obama was basically telling both American and future Israeli voters this: If Israel elects Benjamin Netanyahu prime minister and Americans elect Obama president, expect trouble.”

Rosner insists that he comes to understand and explain the Jewish vote, not to influence it, and his book bears him out. Anyone who consults “The Jewish Vote” before Election Day will carry into the polling booth not Rosner’s political advocacy but the wealth of information that he has gathered and the nuanced analysis that he has conducted. 

 

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of the Jewish Journal. He blogs at jewishjournal.com/twelvetwelve and can be reached at books@jewishjournal.com.

First presidential debate spotlights economy, health care


President Obama and Mitt Romney focused on revenue and spending, with an emphasis on health care, in their first presidential debate. 

With the focus on the economy, foreign policy was mentioned only in passing as the candidates squared off Wednesday at the University of Denver.

Obama said Romney's plans to repeal his health care reform passed in 2010 would remove new protections, including mandatory coverage for those with preexisting conditions and coverage for children up until age 26 under their parents' plans.

Romney said such coverage was a matter best left to the states, and reiterated his claims that the federal plan inhibits business growth and costs jobs.

Obama criticized Romney's plan to transition Medicare, the federal insurance program for the elderly, to private insurers, saying it would drive up costs for seniors. Romney said the change was needed to salvage the program.

Romney also outlined his plans for energy independence, which include promoting use of domestic resources, among them coal. Romney also advocated increased drilling on public lands.

The candidates will focus on foreign policy in the third of their three debates, on Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

In battleground state Ohio, Jewish voters favoring Obama handily, AJC poll shows


An American Jewish Committee survey of Jewish voters in Ohio, a battleground state, has the community favoring President Obama in similar numbers to polls elsewhere.

The survey released Wednesday by the AJC has Ohio's Jews favoring Obama 64 percent to 29 percent for Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate.

With a 6.4 percent margin of error, the numbers are commensurate with two other AJC polls last month that had Obama beating Romney 69 to 25 percent among Florida Jewish voters and 65 to 24 nationally.

As in those polls, the economy and health care topped voters' concerns.

The phone survey of 238 registered Jewish voters in Ohio was conducted Sept. 13-30 by QEV Analytics.

Letters to the Editor: Ayn Rand, Romney, Obama, Rachel Corrie


Dissecting Ayn Rand 

In “Rand … Rosenbaum?” (Aug. 17), Rob Eshman tries to convince us (or himself) that Ayn Rand’s support of Israel confirms her Jewishness and contradicts her philosophy. Neither is true. 

Eshman seems to think that her Jewishness is proved by her ignoring her Jewish background (of which there was precious little; although her Russian family celebrated some Jewish holidays, it also celebrated Christmas), and being an atheist. Interesting “reasoning.” All you have to do to prove your “Jewishness” is to ignore the cultural aspects and reject the philosophic aspects. Hard to think of a stronger case.

Rand’s support of Israel no more establishes her Jewishness than it contradicts her philosophy. Of course, she urged people to support Israel, but so have many non-Jews. She held that Israel (despite being semi-socialist and having a state religion) deserved support because it’s a bastion of Western Civilization, and Western Civilization is the embodiment of Rand’s philosophy of reason, rational self-interest and individual rights. “[The culture of the Arabs] is primitive,” she said, “and they resent Israel because it’s the sole beachhead of modern science and civilization on their continent.” 

Her “Jewishness” is ignored by Ayn Rand Web sites because of its insignificance in her life. 

Michael S. Berliner
The Ayn Rand Archives
Irvine

Rob Eshman  responds: Mr. Berliner is almost exactly correct. I do indeed think Ayn Rand’s Jewishness is proved by her willful excising of her Jewish past and identity from her biography. The list of successful Jews who have done or do the same — yet whose world views and thoughts are nonetheless shaped by the force they strive to suppress — is as long as Jewish history. 

He’s also correct that Ayn Rand fansites ignore her Jewishness. But in her masterful biography “Ayn Rand and the World She Made,” Anne Heller, who is a nonacolyte and a critical thinker, goes into the Jewish impact on Rand’s life in fascinating — and honest — detail.


Election 2012 

Mary Kaplan shines a blistering light on the sad shortcomings of the contemporary media when it comes to their failure to form a persistent and enduring counterbalance to the mega-money machine of lies and propaganda that constitutes the Republican campaign effort (“Romney/Ryan and the Lullaby of Lying,” Aug. 31). 

The Republicans have nominated an even richer cipher than they did in 2000, and (who thought it possible?) a vice presidential candidate to the right of Dick Cheney; yet the one-and-done mainstream media have demonstrated collective amnesia on what this pairing wrought last time around, while essentially allowing a billionaire-fueled campaign of falsehoods, innuendo and race-baiting to pass for ideas. Kudos to Kaplan for pointing it out. 

Mitch Paradise
Los Angeles

It seems like there’s been some tough love in The Jewish Journal, too (“Where’s the Tough Love for Obama,” Aug. 24). For the first time in years, I am unexpectedly yet delightedly reading a “centrist-liberal” take on the hypocritical double standard of a president who claimed to be the change that everyone was hoping for  but has turned out to be just more of the same.

If self-criticism is such a virtue, then the president would have engaged in enough of it by now to realize that he has been advancing the same spend-and-spend, go-and-fight foreign wars statecraft of the previous administration. This is one nasty trend in American politics that must not be “sanitized.”

I commend Suissa for his open call for real scrutiny of this president, and I think more people in the Jewish community would be better served by concentrating their criticism on a president who has done much harm to this country’s relationship with our one ally in the Middle East — Israel. From pressuring Netanyahu for land swaps to open appeasement with hostile Arab countries, one can only ponder: “With friends like Obama, Israel needs no enemies.”

Thanks again, David. Keep up the good work.

Arthur Christopher Schaper
Torrance


The Death of Rachel Corrie 

If Rachel Corrie deserves to be remembered at all, it is as one who was not interested in the injustices to be found in her own city, her own state, her own country (“Rachel Corrie Suit Hinged on One Small Question,” Aug. 31). She was not one who was motivated to act on behalf of the victims of Russia or China or Iran or Iraq or Syria or Libya or North Korea or of the regime in Gaza. She was, as well, indifferent to the mortal struggles in dozens of other places where the victims have no powerful allies and do not enjoy the slavish, obsessive solicitude of the United Nations. 

No, Corrie wasn’t interested in any of that. The 23-year-old Corrie, who did not know anything but who had all the answers, eagerly traveled halfway around the world to make herself an accomplice of the hateful, jihadist dictatorship in Gaza. In so doing, she made her own contribution to that ancient hatred, that convenient hatred, that most durable hatred, the hatred of the Jews. 

While that is quite enough to make Corrie a hero in many parts of the world, decent people should not be confused about who and what she was.

Chip Bronson
Stephanie London

Beverly Hill

3 Views on the GOP Hammering Obama on Israel


This column went to press in advance of the Democratic National Convention. Please see the Rosner’s Domain blog at jewishjournal.com for updates. I also will be writing about the Democrats in next week’s newspaper. 

‎1.‎ President Obama came under attack yesterday for his many sins –as interpreted by ‎GOP candidates – among them the mistreatment of Israel. Senator John McCain, the ‎GOP 2008 candidate, said that the US “can’t afford to cause our friends and allies, ‎from Latin America to Europe to Asia to the Middle East and especially in Israel, a ‎nation under existential threat, to doubt America’s leadership”. Have no doubt: When ‎it comes to the “existential threat” Jerusalem indeed doubts America’s leadership (or, ‎as David Horovitz put it: “Everything you have heard about the personal hostility ‎between Obama and Netanyahu is true, and then some, according to the insiders from ‎both the pro- and anti-Iran strike camps. The prime minister thinks the president is ‎unreliable and misguided on matters Israeli, Middle Eastern and Islamist”). Whether ‎the US can’t afford such doubt is another matter. Condoleezza Rice, in her remarks, ‎also said that ““Our friends and allies must be able to trust us. From Israel to Poland ‎to the Philippines to Colombia and across the world – they must know that we are ‎reliable and consistent and determined”. But she didn’t quite explain why – what ‎might happen if these countries cease to have trust in the US? I must agree with ‎Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin: “She said that under a Romney administration, the ‎United States will remain the most powerful country on Earth but didn’t get into the ‎details of how the former Massachusetts governor would tackle critical challenges ‎such as the crisis in Syria, Iran’s nuclear program, or the Middle East conflict”.‎

Read more at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain

Romney blasts Obama on Iran, Israel


President Obama’s approach to Iran has made Americans “less secure,” Mitt Romney said in his speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination.

“Every American was relieved the day President Obama gave the order, and Seal Team Six took out Osama bin Laden,” Romney said Thursday evening at the Republican National Convention. “On another front, every American is less secure today because he has failed to slow Iran’s nuclear threat.”

He criticized Obama’s strategy of diplomatic engagement with Iran. “In his first TV interview as president, he said we should talk to Iran,” Romney said. “We’re still talking, and Iran’s centrifuges are still spinning.”

While the speech was mostly focused on introducing Romney to the nation and to attacking Obama’s economic record, the GOP nominee devoted several paragraphs to foreign policy. He accused Obama of having “thrown allies like Israel under the bus,” echoing language he had previously used in criticizing the president’s approach to the Jewish state.

Romney nodded only briefly toward social issues.

“As president, I will protect the sanctity of life. I will honor the institution of marriage,” Romney said. “And I will guarantee America’s first liberty: the freedom of religion.”

He also disparaged the Obama administration’s emphasis on countering climate change.

“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans,” Romney said, pausing amid laughter from the assembled delegates, “and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”

How Ryan will motivate Jewish voters


Mitt Romney’s choice of Rep. Paul Ryan to be his running mate on the Republican ticket will help win Jewish votes.  For the Democrats.

Ryan may help Romney shore up support among Tea Partiers and evangelicals who don’t really trust his claims of conversion to their cause, but it is those issues that will cost him Jewish support.

Like everyone else in the Republican primaries, Romney ran hard to the right and was expected to follow the Nixon dictum and pivot toward the center for the general election.  Even senior advisors expected that when one spoke of the Etch-A-Sketch campaign.  But instead Romney moved further to the right with his choice of a running mate.

Turnout is critical and each party will be using Ryan to motivate its base to go to the polls, but for Republicans that appeal to hardline conservatives could cost them votes among undecided Jewish voters and independents in the center whose support will be critical in an election as close as this one appears to be.

Romney’s effort to make Israel a partisan wedge issue in this campaign is overrated.  Jews will still vote overwhelmingly Democratic again this year and it is questionable whether the GOP can draw off enough of their votes to make a difference in battleground states like Ohio, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Medicare-sensitive Florida. His real goal isn’t really votes anyway. It’s big bucks from conservative, deep-pocket donors who put Israel at the top of their agenda.

Foreign and defense policies are the Romney-Ryan ticket’s weak spots.  Neither man has any foreign policy experience — Romney’s recent overseas trip showed he’s not ready for prime time in that realm — and their combined military experience constitutes running down the gangplank on a mothballed World War II battleship Saturday morning to announce the young Wisconsin congressman’s selection.

While Republicans argue that Ryan’s presence on the ticket will enhance its focus on jobs and the economy, in reality it will shift the focus to his budget proposals that would significantly alter Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and a host of other entitlement programs high on the Jewish agenda.

Romney has praised the Ryan budget as “marvelous” and said if he were president and it landed on his desk, he would sign it.  Translation:  He just bought it and made it his own.

Campaign aides scampered to distance Romney from the Ryan proposals, saying he’d have his own plan once elected, but his longstanding aversion to providing any specifics leaves the Ryan budget — now the Ryan-Romney budget — to fill the vacuum and provide Democrats a very inviting target for hard-hitting attack ads.

Ryan’s proposals call for cutting funding for social programs so deeply that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a national group of nuns have publicly criticized it as harmful to the neediest in society.

The National Jewish Democratic Council, a partisan group, noted that “A broad array of Jewish groups have criticized elements of Ryan’s budget proposals, although without naming him.”

Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee, is one of the most conservative members of the Republican Caucus.  The bishops and nuns may not like his plans to cut programs that “serve poor and vulnerable people,” but, unlike most Jewish voters, they do like his hardline views on abortion, gay marriage and reproductive rights.

Most damaging to the ticket may be his proposals to privatize Social Security, transform Medicare into a voucher system and turn Medicaid over to the states through block grants.

Democrats have dusted off their mantra and you’ll be hearing it a lot:  Romney and Ryan want to “end Medicare as we know it.”

Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the Democratic National Committee and is Jewish, said “families and seniors in my home state of Florida want no part of a Romney-Ryan economic scheme that puts millionaires ahead of Medicare.”

Imagine if George W. Bush had gotten his way in 2005 when he proposed privatizing Social Security by allowing contributors to put their money into the stock market instead of the government trust fund.  Much of that money would have been lost when the Bush administration plunged the country into its deepest recession ever.

Social Security is the proverbial third rail of politics and Romney may have just stepped on it.

The Ryan-Romney budget calls for more tax cuts for millionaires like Romney and his fat-cat contributors while making Draconian cuts in federal spending on food safety, energy research, environmental protection, infrastructure, college tuition aid, food stamps, prescription drug coverage, workplace safety, women’s health coverage, consumer protection, product safety and the like.

Ryan could do more to keep Jewish voters in the Democratic column than any other single factor in this election.  Republicans will try to avoid specifics about the impact of Romney-Ryan policies and they will tout Ryan’s courage in tackling tough fiscal issues like entitlements, but voters like their entitlements (not so much yours, but they like their own), and if they fear Ryan and Romney will take them away, they’ll vote Democratic.  Again.

Jewish voters, with their strong affinity for programs serving the needy and the elderly, could be the first to punch the “no sale” button on the Romney-Ryan ticket.

©2012 Douglas M. Bloomfield

Partisan Jewish groups focus on budget in assessing Ryan pick


Partisan Jewish groups focused on Paul Ryan’s leading role in the budget stand-off in assessing Mitt Romney’s pick as running mate.

Rep. Ryan (R-Wis.), the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives budget committee, has taken a lead role in the stand-off between the White House and the Democratic-led Senate on one side and the Republican-led House on the other, that has stymied passage of a budget.

“Paul Ryan has challenged both party leaderships in Washington to face up to growing fiscal problems that threaten to blight our nation’s future,” Matt Brooks, the director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said Saturday after Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, presented Ryan as his vice presidential pick at a rally in Norfolk, Va.  “And while congressional Republicans have responded to the challenge, Democrats have ducked responsibility.”

The National Jewish Democratic Council said Ryan does “not reflect Jewish community values.”

David Harris, the NJDC president, said in a statement that “Ryan’s signature budget plan drew the profound concern and even ire of many in the American Jewish community because of its plans to end Medicare as we know it, slash vital social safety net programs, and increase the burden on seniors, the middle class, and the poor.”

A broad array of Jewish groups have criticized elements of Ryan’s budget proposals, although without naming him.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Jewish public policy umbrella, the Reform movement and B’nai B’rith International have protested proposed GOP cuts to social safety net programs, including Medicaid, which provides medical coverage for the poor, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.

The Jewish Federations of North America has this year maintained a low profile in the rancorous budget debate, and has not weighed in on Ryan’s proposals.

In 2011, however, JFNA was bluntly critical of plans that originated with Ryan to transition parts of Medicare, the medical program for the elderly, into a voucher program, and to convey Medicaid funds in block grants to the states, which reduces federal controls over how the money is spent.

“Within the current framework of Medicaid and Medicare, we believe that it is possible to restrain growth and rein in costs,” read the the April 2011 from JFNA and JCPA to Congress members. “We are capable of strengthening their long-term viability without a fundamental restructuring that turns Medicaid into a block grant or Medicare into a voucher program.”

Ryan, 42, is likely to help Romney, the former Masachusetts governor, in keeping the right wing of the party energized.

A close associate of House majority leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the most senior Jewish lawmaker in Congress, Ryan is a stalwart of budget and social policy hawks who are wary of Romney because of his reputation as a moderate.

Ryan also will be valuable to the campaign in his home state and in neighboring Michigan, both considered possible swing states.

White House agrees with Netanyahu on sanctions, calls for patience


White House officials agreed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assessment that sanctions have not set back Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program, but counseled patience.

“We completely agree with the prime minister’s assessment that Iran has failed to make that choice and that is absolutely a disappointment,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.

Netanyahu, meeting Sunday with Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, expressed skepticism about the sanctions.

“We have to be honest and say that all the diplomacy and sanctions so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota,” he told Romney.

The Obama administration has been making the case for months to Netanyahu that he should delay any plans to strike Iran until it exhausts peaceful options.

Asked about Netanyahu’s comments in a call Tuesday with reporters, Ben Rhodes, the U.S. deputy national security adviser, also agreed with the Israeli leader.

“We continue to be dissatisfied, as Prime Minister Netanyahu is, with Iran’s continued failure to live up to its international obligations,” he said.

Rhodes said, however, that the sanctions were having a dire impact on Iran’s economy and suggested more time was needed to assess whether they would move Iran’s leadership to agree to terms for greater transparency about its nuclear activities.

“What we see today is not just a unified international community, but you see sharp divisions within the Iranian political system, far more so than we have seen in many years,” Rhodes said. “And I think that is a testament to the pressure that they’re under.”

Rhodes said that what the Obama administration has accomplished “is a steady ratcheting up the pressure that is increasing the cost for the Iranians in failing to make the right decisions. And until they do shift course, we will continue to look for ways to increase the impact.”

HEALTH CARE DECISION — Jews react: Los Angeles Jewish Home CEO & President


Molly Forrest, CEO and president of the Los Angeles Jewish Home, had surgery to alleviate arthritis in her neck in December 2010.

Stuck in bed for 35 days, she read the entire Affordable Care Act – all 2,080 pages of it. She has since read it again so she knows it well, and she takes it personally.

“If I were unemployed now, I would not be able to get insurance, and I’m not old enough for Medicare,” Forrest remembers thinking after her surgery.

The Supreme Court’s decision today to uphold the law “settles a 100 year debate about whether access to health care is a right that each American has,” Forrest said.

The 1,000 elderly clients who live at the Jewish Home in Reseda, as well as the 1,500 non-residents it serves and the employees the organization insures all will benefit from the law as implementation goes forward, she said.

“Seventy-five percent of our clients rely on welfare programs to support whatever care they receive, and so anything that threatens or affects Medicaid or Medi-Cal dollars is of enormous concern and importance to us,” Forrest said.

Forrest said she supports the one adjustment to the law the court made—prohibiting the Federal government from withholding Medicaid funds from states that do not comply with the Affordable Care Act.

“We already face such enormous challenges with funding programs for the needy in this state, that for us the decisions of the Supreme Court at least removes the threat that the Federal government could penalize the state in any way for not fully complying with the Affordable Care Act,” Forrest said.

Forrest sees many benefits in the law.

Not only will those with preexisting conditions not be denied coverage now, she said, but the law prohibits insurers from charging highly elevated premiums to those with complicated conditions. This will help many disabled adults get private insurance, she said, since previously their pre-existing conditions either shut them out of insurance or made it entirely unaffordable.

She also sees much benefit in removing insurers’ lifetime cap and the annual cap, and in allowing children to stay on parents’ plans through age 26.

“I think there are a lot of good things here,” she said. “I know there is a lot of controversy around this, but this is America, and I think in the end this will work out and American will be better for it. I know the health of American will be better for it.”

Sheldon Adelson gives Romney super-PAC $10 million


Sheldon Adelson gave a pro-Mitt Romney super-PAC $10 million.

The donation to Restore Our Future, a political action committee that works parallel to the Romney campaign, was reported by multiple media on Wednesday and fulfills the casino magnate’s promise to throw his weight behind whomever was the Republican presidential nominee.

Earlier in the primaries campaign, similar infusions of cash helped prop up Newt Gingrich’s effort to topple Romney from his front-runner status.

Adelson has said multiple times that a candidate’s support for Israel is critical to whether he gives and how much.

Romney and Adelson met last month.

Miami temple disinvites Wasserman Schultz


Miami’s Temple Israel said it canceled tonight’s appearance by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) due to security concerns, but the congresswoman – chair of the Democratic National Committee– called it “internal politics” after learning that a leading GOP donor quit the synagogue because he would not be allowed to give a Republican response.

Stanley Tate, a well-known philanthropist and prominent Republican, resigned from the temple after he learned Wasserman Schultz would be talking about Israel following Friday evening services and that he wouldn’t get an opportunity for rebuttal, according to the Miami Herald.

The temple’s president, Ben Kuehne, a Miami attorney, said the event was canceled because of security concerns (SEE KUEHNE’S LETTER BELOW).

Wasserman Schultz called it an unusual situation, due in part to the temple’s “internal politics.”

“I believe strongly that in a democracy people should be able to hear from and interact with their elected officials, which is why I gladly accepted Temple Israel’s invitation to speak as I have previously to many organizations and religious institutions throughout South Florida,” she said. “It is unfortunate that some would allow politics to stand in the way of citizens’ ability to interact with their representative.”

Tate, 85, is co-chair of Mitt Romney’s campaign in Miami-Dade County. He also has a national role in the GOP presidential candidate’s campaign.

“She’s the chairperson of the Democratic National Committee,” he said. “The topic is the U.S.-Israel relationship. There cannot be any conversation on that topic, none, unless it has to do with the politics.”


Adelson donates $5 million to Republican Super PAC


Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a major giver to the Newt Gingrich presidential bid, has donated $5 million to a Super PAC supporting Republican candidates.

Adelson and his wife, Miriam, made the donation in February to the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC connected to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other Republican leaders that supports establishment Republican candidates, Politico reported, citing a newly filed campaign finance report.

Adelson also reportedly is hosting a fundraiser on Friday at one of his Las Vegas hotels for a Boehner umbrella group that works closely with the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, according to Politico.

Watch Sheldon Adelson dish on all the candidates here.

The donation is a positive sign for Mitt Romney, Politico reports, because his campaign is hoping to attract wealthy donors of the GOP presidential hopefuls he appears to have beaten as Romney prepares to take on President Obama in the general election in November.

The Adelsons donated more than $16 million to Winning Our Future, an independent committee, or Super PAC, that is run by former Gingrich associates in support of the candidate. Gingrich has not dropped out of the race but Romney appears to be well on his way to the Republican nomination.

Adelson is worth more than $21 billion, according to Forbes magazine. He is a major giver to Birthright Israel, which provides free 10-day trips to Israel for Jews aged 18 to 26.

Hopeful Dems eye top committee spots


Amid the election season tumult, behind-the-scenes campaigns are also under way for who will be the next top Democrats on two key congressional committees — with Jewish lawmakers in the running for both leadership slots.

Two veteran congresswomen, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who is Jewish, are vying for the leadership of Democrats on the Appropriations Committee, perhaps the most powerful of the U.S. House of Representatives committees because it determines spending.

And Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who is facing the Foreign Affairs committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), in a redistricting-fueled battle, has declared that he wants his fellow Jewish Democrat’s committee leadership post if he prevails. But if Sherman prevails in his House race, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), a Berman ally, says he would vie to become the committee’s top Democrat.

Irrespective of which party ends up controlling the House after the 2012 elections, the two committee leadership fights are significant.

If the Democrats win back control of the House, they would be able to appoint the committee chairs, who have broad discretion in determining what legislation makes it out of the committee and onto the House floor, and what issues deserve oversight. The minority party’s leaders, while not as powerful as the chairs, may convene hearings and often work with chairs in shaping and advancing legislation.

At this stage the campaigning — among other members of the caucus, the congressional leadership and donors, and, to a degree, in the media — has been more about who plays well with whom than it has been about issues. But bubbling below the surface of the contests are two issues that are central agenda items for Jewish groups: abortion rights and Israel.

Kaptur is in line to be the appropriations committee’s most senior Democrat now that Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) has announced that he is not running for re-election. Lowey is ranked fourth in seniority on the committee among Democrats. Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), who is one slot above Lowey and one below Kaptur, is not considering a bid. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who is ranked seventh, also is considering a bid but is considered a long shot.

Lowey, 74, who was active in Jewish women’s groups before she launched her congressional career in 1989, is making her support for abortion rights an issue in her outreach, her staffer said. Republicans, the Lowey staffer said, tend to flood appropriations bills with amendments that would inhibit abortion as an option in the United States and overseas.

“It’s important to have someone who is willing to stand up for women’s health and who can be relied on,” the staffer said.

Kaptur, a Roman Catholic who represents a relatively conservative northern Ohio district, has been rated a “mixed choice” by NARAL Pro-Choice America, the abortion rights advocacy group, while Lowey scored a “fully pro-choice” rating.

Lowey’s reputation as a premier pro-Israel lawmaker also may figure in the calculus of who gets the spot, although she is not making it an issue in her campaign. She has been a leader in securing assistance for Israel and has an unusually strong partnership with the foreign operations subcommittee chairwoman, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), based in part on their commitment to the Israel-U.S. relationship.

Kaptur is closer to J Street, the liberal Israel advocacy group. In January 2009, in the midst of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, she said that “the proportionality of Israel’s response to Hamas’ incessant terrorist rocket launches is lamentable.”

Kaptur’s communications director, Steve Fought, said that Kaptur was committed to assistance for Israel, as she was to overall foreign aid. In any case, her bid for the committee’s top Democratic spot was based more on economic issues.

“It’s still about the economy, stupid,” he said, noting that Kaptur opposed NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, saying that it brought job losses — and that she has been able to cobble together allies from both parties in pushing back against such agreements.

Just as Lowey’s emphasis on abortion implies an unstated dig at Kaptur, so does the NAFTA reference seem to undercut Lowey, one of a minority of Democrats who voted for the trade agreement in 1993.

Lowey may have the edge with the leadership; she allowed herself in 2007 to be dissuaded from standing for the committee leadership to make way for since-retired Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), which earned her good will. Additionally, Kaptur has clashed with Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House minority leader, over the health care package that in 2010 was the then-speaker’s signature achievement.

Meanwhile in California, the Sherman-Berman race is already infused with pro-Israel politicking, and Sherman’s declared candidacy for the top Democratic spot on the foreign affairs committee only intensifies that element of the race. Berman, 71, and Sherman, 57, are both Jewish.

Sherman, in a statement, suggested that his tough postures on sanctioning Iran and supporting Israel were salient to his leadership bid.

“I have the breadth of experience to do the job and have worked tirelessly to help our caucus achieve a majority,” he said. “My record on Israel and on Iran sanctions is well known to all who read JTA reports.”

Berman would not comment for this article. However, the outline of their increasingly bitter race in the San Fernando Valley race already has seeped into this battle. Sherman’s backers have sought to depict Berman as bound too closely to the Obama administration and averse to aggressively confronting the president on Israel’s behalf. Berman’s defenders have countered that he is more reliable in securing the support and action that Israel needs — most recently the broad Iran sanctions packages — and advances Israel’s interests better as an influential insider.

Sherman, who has been far ahead of Berman in some polls, may not have helped his case by announcing for the committee leadership so early, before the outcome of his House race.

Much of the congressional leadership is rooting for Berman, albeit unofficially, according to a source close to party leaders. Pelosi has been publicly praising Berman, even as she has not made an endorsement in the race. Berman also has been endorsed by the overwhelming majority of California’s congressional Democrats.

Engel, who is also an outspoken supporter of Israel, has announced his intention to bid for the top spot if Berman loses to Sherman, although he said in an interview that he hopes that does not happen.

“I feel a little awkward, but I’m letting people know I would go for the job. I can’t allow someone who has nothing to lose to talk to people,” he said of Sherman, “and not talk to people.”

Santorum’s Southern sweep mars Romney’s front-runner status


Rick Santorum swept two Southern states in Republican primaries, complicating Mitt Romney’s status as front-runner and all but burying Newt Gingrich’s chance for the nomination.

Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who emerged from last place in polling as recently as December to become the conservative challenger to Romney, scored 33 percent of the vote in Mississippi and nearly 35 percent in Alabama. Gingrich, the former U.S. House of Representatives speaker, finished second in both states, with 31 percent in MIssissippi and 29 percent in Alabama. Romney was third with 30 percent in Mississippi and 29 percent in Alabama.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) came in a distant fourth in both races after barely campaigning in either state.

Romney, who during the campaign has tried to shuck his reputation as a moderate, had campaigned hard in a bid to prove he could win in conservative Southern states. The former Massachusetts governor is leading substantially in delegates, but his path to the nomination has been far from smooth as conservative candidates continue to mount substantive challenges.

Gingrich had suggested that if he failed to win in Mississippi and Alabama, his campaign was in trouble, predicated as it was on winning Southern states.

If Gingrich leaves the race, campaign watchers will look to see who his main backer, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, decides to support. Adelson and his wife, Miriam, twice salvaged Gingrich’s campaign with huge cash infusions; Gingrich and Adelson have been friends since the 1990s, in part because they share hard-line pro-Israel positions.

Romney has the backing of much of the Jewish Republican establishment, having attracted the bulk of Jewish donors and advisers. His appeal to Jews is based partly on his moderation and ability during his governance of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007 to appeal to liberals and independents.

Additionally he and his wife, Ann, have referred in talks to Jewish groups to their Mormon faith, likening themselves to Jewish Republicans who have pushed for prominence in a party that still draws much of its support from a Protestant base.

Both Santorum and Romney have battered President Obama for what they depict as his hostility to Israel and his fecklessness on dealing with Iran, and both say that they will repeal much of the heath care reform package passed by Obama.

Some of Santorum’s domestic policies, including statements suggesting that a “Jesus guy” is most suitable for the presidency, have alarmed some Jewish groups.

Romney takes Florida in a romp


Mitt Romney won the Florida Republican primary by a wide margin.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, finished with 47 percent of the vote on Tuesday to easily outdistance ex-U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, who had 32 percent. Romney is a relative moderate who has struggled to appeal to the GOP’s conservative base.

The race was bitter, and the candidates competed hard for the Jewish vote in Florida.

Gingrich in the final days ran a robocall reviving a 2003 story in which Romney as governor vetoed funding for kosher kitchens in homes for the elderly. Romney had not made the original cuts targeting the kitchens and the legislature overrode his veto.

Candidates and their surrogates made appearances at Jewish events, and the Obama campaign chose the week prior to the GOP primary to open its Florida operation, with an emphasis on targeting Jewish voters.

Jewish turnout was low in a primary that was closed to all but registered Republicans, but the state GOP believes it can attract disgruntled Jewish independents and Democrats in the general election.

Much of the race focused on the troubled economy in a state where home foreclosures run high.

In his victory speech, Romney said he would repeal the health care reform passed under President Obama, cut spending and balance the budget without raising taxes.

He only alluded to Israel, saying, “I will stand shoulder to shoulder with our friends around the world.”

The two other candidates, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), received 13 and 7 percent of the vote, respectively.

The next state to vote is Nevada, which hosts a caucus on Saturday.

It was the second primary victory for Romney, who had won in New Hampshire. Gingrich took South Carolina in the run-up to Florida, while Santorum edged Romney in the Iowa caucus at the start of the primary season.

Romney wins in New Hampshire; strong showings for Paul, Huntsman


Mitt Romney won New Hampshire’s primary race, with Ron Paul second and Jon Huntsman third.

A number of news organizations were projecting a win for the former Massachusetts governor in the GOP presidential primary based on early returns Tuesday evening.

With 18 percent of the vote counted just after the final polls closed after 8 p.m., Romney had 36 percent of the vote.

Paul, a U.S. congressman from Texas, had 25 percent of the vote and Huntsman was scoring 17 percent—a narrow enough gap that the ex-Utah governor could still close it before the evening was through. Romney last week squeaked out a win in Iowa, the first caucus state.

A New Hampshire win may contribute to the aura of inevitability that Romney has long sought but has so far failed to secure.

Huntsman, who like Romney is a relative moderate, had bet much of his campaign on a strong showing in New Hampshire. He told CNN Tuesday night that a third-place showing was strong enough to continue.

Paul’s relatively strong showing will do little to quell concerns among Jewish Republicans that his views, which include cutting foreign assistance, including to Israel, have gained traction in the party.

Tying for fourth and fifth place with about 10 percent each were Rick Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, and Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Coming in last was Texas Gov. Rick Perry, with 1 percent. Perry is focusing his attention on the next primary state, South Carolina, which goes to the polls on Jan. 21.

At least 3 GOP candidates say war with Iran is an option


Three Republican candidates for president said they would go to war if Iran obtained a nuclear weapon.

Mitt Romney, one of the frontrunners and the former Massachusetts governor, Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania U.S. senator, each said Saturday night that a “credible threat” of war was necessary to contain Iran.

The policy under Presidents Obama and George W. Bush was to say that “nothing is off the table” without specifying a military option.

“The president should have built a credible threat of military action,” Romney said, referring to Obama.

“If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon,” he said.

Gingrich and Santorum agreed that there should be a “credible threat” of military action.

Herman Cain, a businessman who is also a front-runner, said he would support insurgents in Iran and deploy anti-missile ships in the region, but stopped short of military action.

“I would not entertain military opposition,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas.) also was opposed.

Not asked were Texas Gov. Rick Perry, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

Bachmann later accused Obama of “not standing with Israel” at a time that “the table is being set for worldwide nuclear war with Israel.”

Perry said he backed sanctions that would cut Iran’s Central Bank off from the U.S. economy—something that is currently under consideration in Congress.

Perry also said he backed cutting foreign assistance altogether and getting nations to make their case for assistance. When asked if that included Israel, he said “absolutely,” although he predicted that Israel would make a strong case and would receive substantial aid.

His campaign emailed a “clarification” to reporters immediately following the debate.

It repeated Perry’s debate remarks that “Israel is a special ally, and my bet is that we would be funding them at some substantial level” but added: “Gov. Perry recognizes Israel as a unique and vital political and economic partner for the United States in the Middle East.”

The debate, co-sponsored by CBS and National Journal, took place at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. South Carolina is a key early primary state for Republicans.