George W. Bush wasn’t the only Republican to win big on election night. Larry Greenfield, director of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) of Southern California, also fared quite well.
Surrounded by a crowd of 250 Jewish Republicans partying at Beverly Hills’ Level One club, a beaming Greenfield looked more like a giddy teenager than a 42-year-old man in a dark suit. As news of the Republican triumphs came in, RJC members hugged and high-fived Greenfield, who has become the public face of Southern California’s Jewish Republicans.
For months, in a series of debates throughout the state, he had argued that Jews should and would embrace the GOP, a party that he said fought hard for Israel and promoted personal and economic freedom over government intrusion. Occasionally, Jewish audiences greeted Greenfield’s message with jeers. More often than not, they listened; a few even told him after his speeches that they might “do the unthinkable” and vote Republican, he said.
Working the Level One crowd like a seasoned politician, Greenfield was suddenly cornered by an Israeli man with a thick accent. Extending his hand, the Israeli immigrant thanked Greenfield for his tireless work on behalf of Jewish Republicans.
“You are brilliant and very good for our cause,” the man said. “I think many more Jews will become Republican.”
That already appears to be happening. An L.A. Times exit poll found that 20 percent of California’s Jews voted for Bush this time around, up from 15 percent four years ago. Nationally, the Times said the president won at least 26 percent the Jewish vote, up from 19 percent.
The increase in the Jewish vote for Bush parallels the growth of the RJC of Southern California. Founded in 2001 with about 200 members, the chapter now has 1,000, making it the largest RJC in the country.
Greenfield plans to build on that momentum. In the next year, he said the RJC of Southern California would host the first statewide meeting of California’s eight RJC chapters in Newport Beach. Greenfield also said his group would step up its lobbying efforts on behalf of Israel and increase its outreach to the Southland’s Jewish community. Within a decade, the Republican said he thought up to half the country’s Jewish vote would go Republican.
“We’ve only just begun,” Greenfield said.
If he sounds a tad boastful, Greenfield supporters would argue that his efforts on behalf of local Jewish Republicans had earned him that right.
In recent months, Greenfield participated in 40 debates from San Diego to San Bernardino to Santa Monica. In preparation, he said he spent upward of 200 hours poring over newspapers, political journals and position papers.
Fueled by an almost messianic need to share with his fellow Jews what he sees as the Republican Party’s commitment to liberty and national security, Greenfield showed a willingness to go anywhere at almost anytime to help nonbelievers see the light.
“He’s indefatigable. He seems to work day and night and is willing to travel to speak for the cause at a drop of the hat,” said Dr. Joel Geiderman, incoming regional chair for the RJC of Southern California. “He’s gotten our name out there in a very positive way.”
For all his enthusiasm about President Bush, Greenfield said he was not surprised his Jewish brethren voted predominantly Democratic. Still, Greenfield said he saw his role as planting the seeds of compassionate conservatism that would one day take root among Jews.
During the dog-day campaign grind, Greenfield gave up more than just sleep in his quest to convince Jews that their future lay with a party headed by a conservative born-again Christian. Greenfield, a Berkeley- and Georgetown-educated attorney, said he sacrificed a hefty lawyer’s salary and a social life to help lead the local Republicans.
It was worth it, he said, because America and Israel’s future were at stake. Failing to fight the good fight in these turbulent times would have been nothing less than negligent, he said.
Donna Bojarsky, a Democratic public policy consultant who advises such celebrities as Richard Dreyfuss, said Greenfield is “one of the most articulate and passionate people the Republicans have out here in L.A. in recent memory.”
“People are shocked by how effective Larry’s been and the community’s response to him,” said Democratic activist Lee Wallach, adding that Greenfield tended to play “loose and fast with the facts.”
Rick Entin, a 44-year-old Pacific Palisades real estate investor and lifelong Democrat, said Greenfield “really opened my mind to a broad range of political thinking, especially as it relates to foreign policy.”
Entin, who met Greenfield seven years ago when both became Wexner Heritage Foundation Fellows, said he voted for Bush — the first time Entin ever voted for a Republican presidential candidate. The president’s willingness to confront anti-Semitism at home and abroad and publicly condemn Yasser Arafat impressed Entin. Still, he said he might never have voted Republican if not for Greenfield’s persuasiveness.
Although he denied harboring any aspirations for higher office, Greenfield has long had an interest in politics. At Berkeley, he gave the commencement speech to political science majors and spoke about the importance of protecting liberty, even citing John F. Kennedy. In the mid-1990s, he chaired a local American Israel Public Affairs Committee leadership committee and traveled around the country on behalf of United Jewish Appeal and Israel Bonds talking about U.S.-Israeli relations.
Greenfield’s heightened visibility in the Jewish community and gold-plated Rolodex of contacts would seem to make him a natural for politics. Dr. Richard Sherman incoming president of the RJC’s L.A. chapter said, “Larry has the strong beliefs, is very determined and hard working, the good qualities of a politician.”
However, critics say Greenfield has several kinks to work out.
While Greenfield prides himself on his ability to have respectful exchanges with those disagreeing with him, detractors say he occasionally becomes overheated and combative during debates. At Sinai Temple, for instance, Greenfield — his eyes bulging and voice tinged with agitation — intimated that Sen. John Kerry and the entire Democratic Party had lurched to the anti-Israel radical left. Greenfield also said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the Americans invaded, a stance putting him at odds with both high-ranking U.N. and U.S. weapons inspectors.
Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), who squared off against Greenfield and Republican strategist Arnold Steinberg at Sinai, said he thought Greenfield took some cheap shots.
“He took whatever question there was and tried to paint it with a broad brush and blame everything on the Democrats,” Waxman said. “I thought he was a little off target.”
On target or not, Greenfield said he has no intention of fading away like yesterday’s campaign literature. There’s too much to be done, too many Jews to try to proselytize. As he sees it, his work has just begun.
But first, Greenfield said he wanted some much needed R & R. With a glint in his eye, the Beverly Hills bachelor said he hoped “to find a sweet girl to take to Maui.”