'In the end, 75% of Jews come home to the Democratic party'

The Jewish Democrats’ plan to get Joe Biden reelected by targeting independent voters

JDCA notes high Jewish turnout and that in swing states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia, number of Jews who voted Biden in 2020 was larger than his margin of victory

Jewish Democratic Council of America activists join the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice outside the US Capitol, May 17, 2022. (Jewish Democratic Council of America via JTA/ File)
Jewish Democratic Council of America activists join the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice outside the US Capitol, May 17, 2022. (Jewish Democratic Council of America via JTA/ File)

WASHINGTON (JTA) – It has become conventional wisdom among Democrats that President Joe Biden is in trouble. Despite the long list of accomplishments that his supporters cite, the president is unpopular, losing in polls, and, famously, old.

The Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) has a plan to save him in November.

Rather than fret about a Biden loss in the presidential election, the group wants to focus on a win the party scored in a recent special congressional election in New York, in which moderate Democrat Tom Suozzi beat Mazi Pilip, a Jewish Republican. The strategy that worked there, the group says, could and should be taken nationwide.

In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, JDCA CEO Halie Soifer outlined her plan to turn out Jewish voters in key swing states. The strategy will focus on independent voters, a group that makes up an increasing share of the young Jewish voter base. The youngest Jewish voters, according to a 2021 poll, are nearly 50 percent more likely to be independent than the oldest ones.

“JDCA believes that if Jewish voters show up and vote, President Biden will be reelected,” Soifer said. “This election will be close — just look at the polls — and Jewish voters are an essential part of a winning Democratic coalition, given their historically high margin of support for Democrats.”

The other reasons to invest in Jewish voters, she said, is their presence in battleground states, and the fact that Jewish turnout is traditionally higher than general population turnout. She noted that in 2020 in a few key swing states — Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia — the number of Jews who voted for Biden was larger than his margin of victory.

Soifer’s group employed that strategy last month in New York’s Third District, the area spanning Queens and Long Island where Suozzi cruised to a victory over Pilip to replace Republican George Santos, the disgraced fabulist and accused fraudster who was thrown out of Congress. (Santos has announced plans to run again.)

“We targeted every Jewish voter in that district, Democrat, Republican, and independent,” Soifer said. “In every race that we’re doing this work, we are targeting Democrats and independent voters.”

As they prepare for the election, JDCA and its affiliated political action committee are growing. They have almost doubled their budget since last year, to $4 million. Since its 2018 founding, the group has tripled its staff to 15. It has expanded its board of directors, and recently tapped Susie Stern, a New York philanthropist prominent in Jewish and Democratic Party activism, as its next chair.

US President Joe Biden sits in the Oval Office of the White House, February 9, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Andrew Harnik, File)

Despite that growth, the organization’s size still pales in comparison to its Republican counterpart. In 2022, the Republican Jewish Coalition spent more than $6.6 million, according to tax documents, and spent $10 million on the 2020 election. It plans to spend more this year.

Matt Brooks, RJC’s CEO, declined to share his group’s strategy, saying he would be ready to elaborate at a later date. In the past, RJC has focused on Jewish voters in swing states, but also has geared its ads towards the broader community, with an emphasis on the argument that Republicans are the better national security choice.

Steve Rabinowitz, a strategist and co-founder of JDCA who is no longer affiliated with the organization, told JTA he is not worried about Jewish Democrats abandoning Biden. The consistent electoral history of around 75% of Jews voting for the Democratic candidate, he predicted, would continue into 2024.

“Is there apprehension, is there concern the same way there is in the mainstream community? Yes, of course,” said Rabinowitz. “In the end, it works out, they’ll come home — at least three-quarters of them.”

Along with Biden’s poll numbers, JDCA faces some headwinds in the Jewish community. The increase in independent Jewish voters, Soifer said, does pose a challenge to Jewish Democrats, who have always counted on an electorate that has been solidly and overwhelmingly aligned with their party.

Halie Soifer heads the Jewish Democratic Council of America. (Courtesy of JDCA)

“It may be even more pronounced,” she said of the trend. “In the same way that younger Jews are less likely to identify with a denomination or affiliate with a synagogue, they are less likely than their older counterparts to self-identify with a party.”

To account for that trend, JDCA will be highlighting domestic issues that the group believes bring independents closer to Democrats. One of those is reproductive rights. Large majorities of Jews have consistently said they are pro-choice, and in the New York race that serves as a model for JDCA’s strategy, the group ran an ad focused on abortion. Pilip, the Republican candidate, declined to answer questions about whether she supported abortion rights.

To find voters, JDCA uses targeted advertising on social media, where a user’s interests may indicate involvement in Jewish and political issues. The group follows up with texting and then phone calls as election day nears.

“We intentionally focused on abortion because that is an issue on which there’s nearly a consensus in the Jewish community,” she said. “It transcends partisan divides.”

Another focus of JDCA’s outreach, she said, would be on preserving democracy, a tactic that dovetails with Biden’s strategy of hammering on the threat he says Donald Trump poses to democratic rule. That tactic will focus on Trump’s boast that he would be a “dictator” on the first day of his second term, and on his role in spurring the deadly January 6, 2021, riot at the US Capitol.

Republican presidential candidate, former US president Donald Trump gestures to supporters at an election-night watch party at Mar-a-Lago in West Palm Beach, Florida, on March 5, 2024. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/ AFP)

Biden made protecting abortion rights and defending democracy themes of his State of the Union address last week, in which he referred to Trump — usually as “my predecessor” — a dozen times.

JDCA says its targeting of swing states will also help drive turnout in competitive Senate races that could determine control of that chamber.

“There’s a lot of overlap this cycle” with states that could swing the presidential election and have key Senate races, Soifer said. “Looking west to east: Nevada, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio.”

Georgia, a swing state with a big Jewish community but without a Senate race in play, will also be a focus.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a New York Democrat, from left, speaks alongside Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, Rep. Jonathan Jackson, an Illinois Democrat, and Rep. Cori Bush, a Montana Democrat, during a vigil with state legislators and faith leaders currently on hunger strike outside the White House to demand that US President Joe Biden call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, on November 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Nathan Howard)

JDCA does not need to focus on Israel in its outreach, Soifer said, because she does not feel it needs to make the case that Biden, who has been a staunch supporter of Israel’s war effort, is pro-Israel. (The group did produce an ad contrasting Biden’s remarks on the war with Trump’s in October.) And Rabinowitz does not feel Israel’s war with Hamas, and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, will be a meaningful factor in how and whether liberal Jews vote.

“There’s a dirty little secret that while Israel is important, even very important, it is the single most important issue for very few Jews, and a lot of those Jews are Republican or politically conservative,” he said.

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