No swing state carries more Electoral College votes than Florida’s 29, or contains more Jewish voters than Florida’s estimated 600,000. The state was the decisive battleground in the infamous 2000 election, and may turn out to be a decisive battleground once more this year.
According to most estimates, Mitt Romney, who leads the state by just 0.9 percentage points in the Sunday New York Times polling average, has little chance of unseating incumbent President Barack Obama without it.
And with Jews making up as much as 8% of the Florida electorate, both Republicans and Democrats have invested heavily in making their case to the state’s Jewish community. On Sunday, that meant Democrats rallying Jewish votes in an event at a civic center in Delray Beach.
At the event, Congressman Ted Deutch of Florida’s 19th District, a heavily Jewish area that includes Boca Raton, urged Jews to support the incumbent president on November 6.
Jews agree with Obama on “issues that are important to the Jewish community,” Deutch told The Times of Israel after the event.
These include “equality for women,” “health care” and the fact that “this election could shape the United States Supreme Court for the next generation.” This agreement explains why support for the president “continues to be so strong” among Florida’s Jews — 69% outright support according to a recent American Jewish Committee poll, with undecided voters not counted in that figure leaning heavily toward Obama.
Then, of course, there’s Israel.
“There are tens of millions of dollars being spent trying to make support for Israel into a political issue,” Deutch charged, referring to Republican efforts, including by the Republican Jewish Coalition, to convince Jews in swing states to switch their historically Democratic affiliation to the Republican Party.
Some Jewish Republicans say Obama’s Middle East policies are a danger to the Jewish state.
“Support for Israel has always been bipartisan, and notwithstanding the efforts of some in the Republican Party, it will continue to be bipartisan,” Deutch declared, adding that while “shadowy groups” are “buying billboards and running commercials down here in Florida,” the Democrats are fielding “people that the community really knows and respects, leaders from the Jewish community around America who support the president; those are the voices that matter, especially down in my community.”
One of those leaders is Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who spoke to the Delray Beach audience by video conference Sunday, and told The Times of Israel that a second Obama term would ensure a safer Israel than a Romney presidency.
Obama “has been clearer and firmer than Romney on the Iran issue,” Dershowitz insisted.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has wrangled with the Obama administration in recent weeks over what the prime minister sees as American overconfidence in its intelligence capabilities that has left the US unwilling to stop the Iranian nuclear program until it is much more advanced — too advanced to stop, Netanyahu has charged.
“I agree with Netanyahu,” Dershowitz acknowledges.
But, he adds, “It’s not a question of whether Obama’s policy is better than Netanyahu’s. It’s a question of whether Obama’s policy is better than Romney’s.”
In a recent visit to the White House, Dershowitz says he challenged the president on Iran. “Obama looked me in the eye and said, ‘I don’t bluff. I’m telling you Iran is not going to develop nuclear weapons.’”
“I believe him,” Dershowitz said.
Obama views the issue as one of American self-interest, not only Israeli, Dershowitz believes. “Iran thinks the United States is its greatest enemy, and Israel its second-greatest enemy.”
A former Democratic congressman from District 19, Robert Wexler, was also at the Delray Beach event. For Wexler, Republican criticism of the president’s Israel policies has raised the stakes.
“This year, there’s an intensity” to the Democratic insistence that Obama is solidly pro-Israel, because of the “enormous resources that have been devoted to distorting and misrepresenting the president’s position regarding Israel,” Wexler says, citing Romney’s assertion in his Republican National Convention speech that Israel had been “thrown under the bus by the president.”
But American Jews haven’t fallen for the vitriol, Wexler claims. Convinced that the president is “profoundly pro-Israel, they [have] essentially moved on to other issues. The Obama ticket mirrors the values of the vast majority of Jewish Americans in terms of social issues, women’s issues, Medicare, a whole variety of economic issues.”
And when it comes to Iran, “Israelis can rest easily at night.” Obama, Wexler says, “gave his word in public on a number of occasions [that he would not allow an Iranian nuclear weapon]. Israel can bank on that, 100 percent.”