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Can Romney Crack the Jewish Vote?

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The fine Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev has a piece today predicting that Mitt Romney might do better among Jews than previous Republican presidential candidates. Since FDR's time Jews have voted overwhelmingly Democratic, with Republicans only reaching 40 percent in 1956 when President Eisenhower was their nominee. (Considering that he defeated Hitler, it is amazing that he didn't get 90 percent, but he was a Republican, albeit not the kind of Republican still extant today.)

The Democrats average out at about 75 percent although some Democrats -- including Barack Obama in 2008 -- have almost reached 80 percent with a few scoring 90 percent.

Shalev thinks that Romney could do almost as well as Ike did. After first stating that an unabashed Christianist like Rick Santorum wouldn't stand a chance with Jews, he writes this:

Romney, on the other hand, stands a fighting chance of making inroads among the 78% or so of the Jews who voted for Obama in 2008. If he can allay Jewish concerns about the influence of Christian conservatives on his social agenda, Romney might convert enough Jewish votes in places where it could theoretically make a very big difference. If he keeps Obama at or around the 62% of the Jewish vote that a recent survey of the Public Religion Research Institute gave him, Romney will have come close to or even equaled the best results ever achieved by Republican presidential candidates.

Happily for Democrats, Romney will not be able to "allay" those Jewish fears about the "influence of Christian conservatives" on his "social agenda" because doing so would cost Romney the support of the very people he needs to get elected -- and who aren't crazy about him to begin with.

Romney can no more diss the Christian Right than John McCain could have put Joe Lieberman on the ticket as vice presidential nominee. McCain wanted Lieberman and Lieberman wanted to be picked. But the rightist leaders who control as much as 40 percent of the GOP vote told him, in no uncertain terms, that picking the pro-choice Lieberman would cost him the right-wing base. So he picked Sarah Palin who delighted the base and cost him any chance of either winning or cutting into Obama's share of the Jewish vote. (Sarah Palin appalled Jews even more than she did most voters. Trashing the Ivies is no way to score with Jews!)

Even if Romney is a secret liberal, you can be sure he will keep that secret at least through November and, probably, for as long as he believes he has a political future. Why would he try to court liberal Jews when doing so would cost him millions of votes on the right and will gain him very few on the left? He isn't crazy.

An interesting sidenote about Shalev's column. He barely mentions Israel, which the Republican Jewish Coalition, Commentary and other Republican institutions and individuals are exploiting to entice Jewish voters who put Israel before any other issue. Between now and November, spreading the lie that Barack Obama is anti-Israel will be the one tactic the right will use to cut into Obama's margin over Romney.

What choice do they have.They can't discuss the economy, abortion, gay rights, the environment, labor, the Supreme Court, racial equality or any of the other issues on which the GOP's views are anathema to Jews. But scaring people, especially seniors, about Israel seems to offer an opportunity.

But given this month's poll showing that only 4 percent of Jews cast their ballots based on Israel and the American Jewish Committee poll in 2008 showing that Israel was the 7th most significant issue for Jews in that year's election (with 3 percent), Israel is not going to swing much of the Jewish vote to the GOP no matter how hard the right tries.

In the end, Jews will vote as Americans, but as Americans who are consistently liberal and who fear that the Christianist white America of the GOP's dreams has no place for us, or any minority. No, they wouldn't vote for a presidential candidate who is anti-Israel, but Obama is anything but that. In fact, he can only be considered unfriendly to Israel if one believes that by allowing Netanyahu and the Israel Lobby to determine his Middle East policies, he actually hurts the Jewish state.

I believe that, but I'll be working hard to re-elect the president. As Van Jones puts it: "I don't compare Obama to the Almighty. I compare him to the alternative."

There is a phrase for that in Hebrew: eyn breira. No alternative.

Besides I do not vote based on Israel. If I did, I wouldn't support either Obama or Romney, both of whom are snugly in Netanyahu's pocket. For America, however, Obama is our only hope.

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