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The Most Jewish Election

The 2012 presidential campaign will be a landmark for U.S. Mormons. It’ll also be the most Jewish election in history, argues a Mitt Romney adviser.

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Obama and Romney. (Photoillustration Tablet Magazine, original photos Shutterstock, Marc Serota/Getty Images, and Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.)
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Support for President Obama is sagging among a key Democratic voting bloc. Now his campaign has 11 months to win back Jewish voters.

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Republicans are once again arguing that American Jews will abandon the Democratic Party. But it won’t happen, because Jews recoil from the GOP’s overt Christianity, even when it comes with staunch pro-Israel views.

Now that Rick Santorum has dropped out of the Republican primary, the long-anticipated election showdown between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama is beginning to heat up. And one thing is becoming clear even at this early stage: The 2012 presidential race, between a Mormon Republican and a Christian Democrat, is shaping up to be one of the most Jewish elections in American history.

Yes, you read that right.

We’ve had very Jewish elections before, perhaps none more than 2000, when Joe Lieberman was on the Democratic ballot as vice president. That race also featured the spectacle of South Floridian bubbes and zaydes who thought that they might have voted for Pat Buchanan over Al Gore because of the infamous “butterfly ballot.”

At least so far in 2012, there are no Jewish candidates on either major ticket. But this year, the involvement of Jews in all elements of the political process, combined with increased Jewish confidence and security as a community, is manifesting itself on the political stage—most notably, on both sides of the political aisle. These factors, as well as the potential for Mitt Romney to take advantage of President Obama’s rough patches with Israel to peel away some of his Jewish support, have made the Jewish role in the 2012 election more prominent than in any previous race.


Though Jews seem to be everywhere in politics these days—as candidates, strategists, officials, fundraisers, commentators, and more—the high level of Jewish involvement in national politics would have been unfathomable in the 19th century. In 1813, for example, President Madison appointed Mordecai Manuel Noah as U.S. consul to Tunis, only to have the Islamic government there object to having a Jew in the role (so much for the idea that Islamic anti-Semitism is a post-Israel phenomenon). The State Department, headed by future president James Monroe, acceded to the request, and Madison blamed the recall on “the ascertained prejudice of the Turks against his Religion.” It would be 40 years before there was another equally prominent Jewish appointee in the form of Democratic fundraiser August Belmont, whom Franklin Pierce named U.S. minister to The Hague in 1853.

Jews did emerge in presidential politics during the Civil War—but not in a positive way. In 1862, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s infamous General Orders No. 11 expelled Jews from the Department of the Tennessee, an area under Union Army Control. A delegation of Jews lobbied President Abraham Lincoln to rescind the order, a request that the president quickly granted. Yet the order became even more relevant when Grant ran for president in 1868. Grant’s candidacy presented a real challenge to American Jews, who, for the first time, faced the question of whether to cast their votes as Jews or as Americans. As a result, Grant had to reach out to Jews in unprecedented ways for a presidential candidate. As president, he delivered: Grant was the first president to attend a synagogue dedication and, later, the first one to visit Palestine. He also appointed more Jews to his administration than had any other president.

Even so, Jews still faced a glass ceiling for the remainder of the 19th century, with a number of Jews serving in ambassadorial positions, but none attaining Cabinet rank.

The Jews broke through in the 20th century, when Theodore Roosevelt named Oscar Straus to be Secretary of Commerce, making Straus the first Jewish Cabinet secretary. William Howard Taft became the first president to invite a Jew—Sears President Julius Rosenwald—to dinner at the White House in 1912. In addition, 1920 GOP candidate Warren G. Harding benefited from a campaign song written and performed by the Jewish entertainer Al Jolson, titled “Harding, You’re the Man for Us.”

Despite these groundbreaking steps taken by Republican presidents, for the most part Jews have been an assumed part of the Democratic coalition since Franklin Roosevelt built his New Deal majorities. Furthermore, widespread Jewish acceptance into mainstream society following World War II meant that Jews were becoming more involved in politics, but mainly on one side of the aisle. This imbalance meant that Democrats could take Jewish votes for granted in national elections, while Republicans could run for president, and even secure the GOP nomination, without much need for or hope of Jewish electoral support.

Over the last century, no GOP candidate has won the majority of the Jewish vote, although Harding—perhaps thanks to Al Jolson—did secure a plurality in 1920. Democrats have won, without fail, the Jewish vote in every election since FDR. Yes, Ronald Reagan was able to get 39 percent of the Jewish vote in 1980—but 16 percent went to third-party candidate John Anderson, leaving Carter with only 45 percent.


In 2008, Barack Obama won 78 percent of the Jewish vote—just one percentage point lower than the 79 percent Al Gore received in 2000, when he had a Jewish running mate. Peter Beinart, a Jewish critic of Israel, recently came out with a book in which he attributes Obama’s Israel policy and general worldview to Jewish influences—going so far as to call Obama America’s first Jewish president. This may be a bit of a stretch, but it’s certainly the case that the president has had a number of high-profile Jewish events, including the first White House Passover Seder, and appointed a number of Jews to senior positions. Obama’s first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was Jewish. Obama’s second chief of staff, Bill Daley, wasn’t—and he did not work out so well. In January, Obama replaced Daley with Jack Lew, who is not only Jewish but Orthodox to boot. David Axelrod, the Obama campaign’s chief strategist, is also Jewish, and Obama shows no signs of replacing him with a non-Semitic alternative.

Despite these overt and symbolic nods, over the past four years, President Obama’s relations with Israel have increasingly become the subject of intense debate inside and outside the Jewish community. Obama’s given everyone—particularly the Republicans—a lot of material on this subject, with his refusal to take a picture with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March 2010; his hot-mic criticism in November 2011 of Netanyahu during discussions with French President Nicolas Sarkozy; and his orchestrated rebuke of Israel after Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Jerusalem in early 2010. It is not surprising that Jews obsess endlessly about the state of the relationship between the United States and Israel, but the mainstream media have been following this question just as closely this time around.

The Obama campaign is apparently well aware of the discontent in the Jewish community regarding Obama’s positions on Israel—perhaps one of the reasons behind the president’s talk yesterday at the Holocaust Museum. Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch has been a bellwether voter in years past, with a tendency to desert the Democrats when concerns about Israel outweigh domestic political considerations. After Koch noisily backed Republican Bob Turner in the New York race to replace disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner in order to send a message to the White House, the Obama Administration put on a full court press to secure Koch’s support, including a personal meeting with Obama and an invitation to a state dinner. While this effort moved Koch from opponent to supporter, at least for now, it is too costly an approach to employ on every disaffected Jewish voter. (The poll numbers show that there is at least some disaffection: A February Pew poll found that “Even Jewish voters, who have traditionally been and remain one of the strongest Democratic constituencies, have moved noticeably in the Republican direction.” A more recent poll shows that 62 percent of Jews would back Obama in November—an improvement, but still lower than what he received in 2008.)

Jews have also found themselves in the middle of some recent, broader campaign missteps as well. Hilary Rosen, the Democratic strategist who said earlier this month on CNN that Ann Romney “never worked a day in her life,” is Jewish. So is Danielle Gilbert, the DNC aide who caused a kerfuffle with the discovery of her Facebook posts that showed her and her girlfriends holding wads of cash and calling themselves “Jewbags.” Gilbert was hired by Jewish DNC head Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who declared that she would stand by Gilbert, the daughter of Mark and Nancy Gilbert, important Democratic fundraisers.

Of course, it is not surprising to have Jews a major part of the conversation on the Democratic side of the aisle. Democrats typically can count on at least 75 percent of the Jewish vote, and Jewish money, much of it from Wall Street and Hollywood, is crucial to funding the Democratic Party. Furthermore, 13 of the 53 senators who caucus with the Democrats are Jewish—almost 25 percent. Two of those 53 senators are Independents, both of whom are Jewish. There are 26 Jewish members of Congress. Twenty-five of them are Democrats. (The one who isn’t, Eric Cantor, is the House Majority Leader.)

So, why is this year different from all other years? In how much the Republican conversation has focused on Jews as well. Newt Gingrich made a splash in the Jewish world—and everywhere else—thanks to Jewish billionaire Sheldon Adelson and Adelson’s Israeli-born wife, who single-handedly allowed Gingrich to stay in the race months after he seemed to have run his course. Adelson and his family kicked in over $16 million to help a pro-Gingrich SuperPac, which led to Adelson profiles in the New York Times and The New Yorker, among other publications. The running theme in the profiles was how Adelson’s support for Gingrich would potentially influence Gingrich’s already hawkish pro-Israel views.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who may have been the least Jewish candidate ever on Lenny Bruce’s famous Jewish v. Goyish scale, held a fundraiser in New York specifically targeted at reaching out to Orthodox Jews. Yet, it was another highly goyish candidate—the staunchly pro-Israel Tea Party Republican Michele Bachmann—who tried to use the word “chutzpah” in a Fox News appearance. Suffice it to say, it didn’t go well, and the choots-pah clip flew around the Web.

As for the GOP candidate, Mitt Romney has busted out the “ch” word as well, accusing Joe Biden of chutzpah for criticizing Romney on the economy. Biden, for his part, has said that Romney has chutzpah for calling Obama “out of touch.” Both men got the pronunciation mostly right—or at least more right than Bachmann.

Romney has also declared that his first foreign trip as president would be to Israel. The New York Times recently ran a front-page story on the decades-long friendship between Romney and Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, who met at the Boston Consulting Group back in 1976. The article showed how Netanyahu has influenced Romney on a number of issues, and not just with respect to the Middle East. John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador the United Nations, has joked that the friendship between the two means that Netanyahu could expect to get at least a sandwich and a cup of coffee from a Romney White House, a reference to the time that Obama left Netanyahu and his team alone in the White House while he went off to get dinner without the Israeli leader.

There are a number of reasons why the Jewish community gets so much attention in a nation that is about 98 percent not Jewish. Part of this stems from a strong Jewish presence in key election battleground states such as Ohio and Florida, as well as Jewish involvement in the political, fundraising, and media worlds. But it is also a testament to this country—the way it not only welcomes immigrant groups but also folds them into the fabric of American life, while allowing them to maintain what makes them distinctive. As the great Daniel Boorstin wrote in 1953 in The Genius of American Politics, outside religions such as Judaism and Catholicism, “while accepting the moral premises of the community, can still try to judge the community by some standard outside its own history. But even these religions often take a peculiar American complexion and tend toward validating themselves by their accord with things as they are.”

It is unclear at this point how much the Jewish vote itself will shape the election come fall, or what the final outcome will be. But, as Boorstin suggested, the American Jewish community will continue to both seek validation through the electoral process, as well as provide validation to the country as a whole. And through their outsized role in multiple aspects of the presidential campaigns unfolding before us, Jews will continue to shape the race.


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leucippe says:

And how about the infamous bingo king, Irving Moskowitz, one of the great individual mischief-makers and poster boy for the corruption of big money capitalists, where a single person can cause such harm and in so many ways.

jmm64 says:

       I, as a Democratic, liberal Jew who voted for him in 2008 living in Ohio, will not make the same mistake twice. He’s definitely not pro-Israel and I could not live myself supporting him again, especially if he permitted Iran to obtain nuclear weapons and they were used against Israel. My hands will not be dripping with Jewish blood and I will not aid and abet in the destruction of Israel by voting for Obama again!! This is one liberal , Democratic Jew voting Republican in 2012.

PhillipNagle says:

“Christian” covers a wide variety of beliefs.  In the case of Obama, the church he went to was unquestionably anti Israel and perhaps anti-Semitic.  In what should be a suprise to no one, Obama has been the most anti Israel president in recent times (rivaled only by Carter).  The only time he changes is when he wants Jewish money for the Democrat party and his own reelection.  And they say we Jews are supposed to be smart.

    boysenberry says:

    And yet the jews will vote for 0bama again. They will always vote democrat, they are dumb people, kind of naive.

gemel says:

To see the Orthodox and Chasidic communities’ animosity towards Obama, look at the comments for any story featuring Obama in

    rocky2345 says:

     Considering that so many get food stamps, Section 8 housing and Medicaid benefits, it is certainly not in their interest to vote Republican. But lots of poor people make bad voting choices.

     “The cuts to food stamps would reduce the monthly benefit for a family of
    four by almost $60, repealing increases that were enacted three years
    ago as part of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus. The changes
    would also force up to 3 million people out of the program by tightening
    eligibility rules, the administration estimates.”   go here:

Moshan says:

Sorry folks but Obama has been an unmitigated disaster both abroad and at home. The tragic part is that it’s hard to decide which part is the worst of his legacy. It’s harder to decide in the foreign policy sphere because the changes take longer and the effects will be mostly seen when he’s out of office in Jan ’13 (let’s hope!).

Romney is far from any Reagan but we can use a steady, calm hand for now. I might vote democratic in ’16, but there’s no way I’m going for Obama this year. I got fooled once already. Unlike a lot of American Jews, I wouldn’t vote for just about anyone if it showed up on the Democratic ticket. Obama has got to go. Now.

    jmm64 says:

    I definitely agree with you and a lot of my Jewish friends and relatives who supported Obama in 2008 are not voting for him this year. They are liberal, Democrats like myself and will vote Republican this year.  See my comment below

      KKRDB says:

      u are sig Obama is a divisive, dishonest mountebank, a failure. Claims that he transcends race, but plays the race card incessantly. When not playing the race card, he is stirring up class animosity. Any machination to divert attention from his failed policies and broken campaign promises Profile

ravmlk says:

Most Democratic liberal Jews will vote and support Obama enthusiastically for a number of reasons.  First, Obama has been there when Israel needed US support.  During the Obama administration, the US government has supplied advanced weapons that helped shield Israeli cities from rocket attacks.  Israel has been the beneficiary of significant US military aid.  The US has also taken the lead in putting economic pressure on Iran, and has supported Israel consistantly in the UN.  So don’t listen to all that Republican propaganda.  It’s not true.

A majority of Jews base their votes in US elections on social issues and not on Israel.  Only a very small percentage vote based on perceived US-Israel relations.  Jews are concerned with the economy, women’s issues, equal rights, etc.  There is a great concern about the great divide between Democrats and Republicans on social concerns.  Moreover, the Jewish population in our country is so small (2%) that it would take a massive shift in our thinking to turn a state’s electoral vote.  And that’s not going to happen.

    counterpointisrael says:

    Obama has only towed the line in support of Israel because he is literally banking on another term in office. His hot-mic comment to the Russian President recently is a telling insight into what is to come. He cannot run for another term, so he will not care what anyone thinks of his legacy. He is arrogant and conceited. Jewish blood will be dripping from his hands by the time of the 2016 electtions. And he is likely to cause lasting damage to Israel, for which she may never recover.

    KKRDB says:

    Give me Georgie Bush any time..Israel has not had so many problems since BHO

    deceitful way won the election.
    Promising “change”…..Oh yea change for the worse..Thanks but no thanks.
    Feel sorry for the Americans being lumbered with such POTUS who is a downright socialist..
    But then,the silly Jews no doubt will vote him in,yet again(deluded & glutten for punishment for sure)
    That he may win a second term is (my way thinking) might occur.So long HE keeps his damn interference toward Israel I care not.

It’s important, as always, to judge people’s actions rather than their words. The fact that someone such as Beinart proclaims Obama ‘the first Jewish President” should be an immediate tip off that the opposite is the case.

The litmus test of someone’s capability or their political acumen should never be whether or not they are Jewish or from a Jewish heritage – there are far far too many examples of  Jewish people who put their leftist credentials even ahead of their own self-preservation instinct – because they take their freedom and safety for granted. Let’s not forget the relatively exclusive attribute that this country has afforded Jews, compared to the historic pattern. Take a look around Europe these days and see how Jews living there feel.

“Real” Jews don’t need to worry about being cited for “dual loyalty” issues – because a strong Israel will virtually always be in this country’s best interest – and vice versa –  which as good a reason as any to change Presidents this Fall.

Obama’s White House seder was not the first. George W. Bush hosted at least one.

I am a jewish communist and I met personally Obama it was just after he announced he was running in the last election. I can say I am at a loss, because I am going back for my masters degree starting next week.  I honestly feel that neither man has ever had my resume or CV including that I am a Jewish female gifted author anywhere in their good works.  I felt during this last presidential term any book that I have written would lay on the shelves and whether or not it ever got published is of no importance to either of these men….. I moved into a condo this year and I believe neither man noticed if a woman could own it without a man, partic’ her Father.  I then swore that I saw neither man believed I could reinvest my education in a masters degree efficiently without another man’s aid.  Again…. are women at the back of the bus?  Can’t male leaders do better?  I have only one son who is 23 years old.  What have these men taught my son, Alex?  I want another child to be named Oliveir before I am 48.  I have high blood pressure and I rarely eat meat or chicken don’t I have that right to have another late in life baby?  Isn’t that what determines who I should then vote?

” for the most part Jews have been an assumed part of the Democratic coalition since Franklin Roosevelt built his New Deal majorities.”

Actually, the majority of the Jewish vote has consistently gone to the Democrats since 1924 in the Coolidge versus Davis race and Smith in 1928 was the first to get the sort of overwhelming majority (not that it did him any good) to which Democrats are accustomed:

rocky2345 says:

Enjoy your “most Jewish election.” My guess is that each future election will be less and less Jewish. The past was Washington Heights with its heavily Jewish and upwardly mobile population. Henry Kissinger, Alan Greenspan and Ruth Westheimer once lived there. It is now heavily Dominican. The present is 747 Park Avenue with its Jewish hedge fund traders and their Christian wives living in vice-regal splendor.  The future is New Square, NY, with its rapidly growing Hasidic population made up of large families. Over 80% of the residents are classified as poor by the US census bureau and are probably on food stamps, Section 8 housing benefits and Medicaid. I doubt that Harvard, Yale or even Yeshiva University is on the radar screen of New Square students. They won’t be running election campaigns or be candidates for statewide or national office, they won’t be making big donations to Super Pacs and they won’t be hosting A list fundraisers.

The late Milton Himmelfarb once coined the aphorism that Jews earned like Episcopalians but voted like Puerto Ricans. In a generation or two, the exact opposite may be closer to the truth. It has already come true in Kiryas Joel and New Square, where poor and some middle class Jews voted over 90% for John McCain in 2008.       

Sam Billy says:

Ask the Jewish students who went to high school (Cranbrook) with Mitt, if Mitt was fair and kind to his Jewish schoolmates. 

bobschwalbaum says:

 I don’t beleive the Jewish vote will matter..What WILL matter is Jewish money.

I was heartened to read that Sheldon Adelson may make major contributions to Romney’s campaign.. hopefully to equal his Gingrich donations.

Obama has BILLIONS!

This campaign is a “no-brainer” for me.. a Jew who loves Mormons.

esthermiriam says:

Contrary to what he may believe, Netanyahu is not equivalent to Israel.
Contrary to the view of this writer, there are more complex ways to be pro-Israel
than to support Netanyahu’s policies that impede  peace and endanger democracy

emunadate says:

I also think Obama is just catering to the jewish needs because he wants our vote. Once he is elected and can’t be re-elected we will see his true colors. I hope it doesn’t come to that. I rememeber how Obama treated Bibi and his staff when they came to Washington for their first visit when Obama became president.

roiloff says:

“It is unclear at this point how much the Jewish vote itself will shape the election come fall”…but Jewish money will no doubt distort the election, as usual. “There are a number of reasons why the Jewish community gets so much attention in a nation that is about 98 percent not Jewish”…and about 98% of it stems from “Jewish involvement in the political, fundraising, and media worlds.” Obama is a creation and wholly owned subsidiary of this venal agglomerate ‘world’. So isn’t Romney, increasingly. “the American Jewish community will continue to both seek” advantages through the electoral process, as well as advantages in the country as a whole. It doesn’t matter which puppet candidate is ‘elected’ – either way Jews make out best. Heads they win, tails we lose. 

ReuvenBoruch says:

I know that writing on line can be risky…. Whatever you say, can be criticized….  But here it goes….

I don’t like the fact that the Jewish Community & Israel will play such a dominant role in this years election cycle….

As a POI….. To all those who advocate for Israel… I do also… I follow virtually every column that Caroline Glick (Deputy Editor of the Jerusalem Post) writes.. and I think she’s one of the best journalists we have today.. I also follow Women In green….

So.. what’s with my attitude…

Imagine the following… Google the statement Secretary  of State Clinton made on behalf of South Korea ( Yes, South Korea) in April of 2010, when she stated that South Korea could count on the US.. Period…. no negotiations over settlements, no talk of going back to previous borders (which would render Israel totally unsafe).. no talk of not accepting Jerusalem as the Undivided Capital of Israel, and,.. no hesitation in standing by Israel in its off shore dispute with Lebanon over natural gas rights…..

All Gov. Romney would have to do is replace South Korea with Israel, and you’ll see just how far the change will go…… Just that quickly…. Israel’s enemy’s will see that the US has changed its policy’s & ideology toward the region, and that the new President has the guts to stand by the only Democracy in the region…

And just as quickly, radical groups like the Muslim Brotherhood will see that their no longer getting the red carpet treatment in Wash D.C.

Within a year (if not less).. it will no longer be fashionable to be a Liberal Self Hating Jew…..

We have enough trouble right here at home.. sky high unemployment (just try being out of work when your 45-50 or older & getting another job)…

Obama care (which the Supreme Court surely will rule as unconstitutional)….
But what about the millions of people here in the US who don’t have health coverage. .and if their out of work, and get sick????

Just remember, these jews want gentiles to die to defend israel, not jews. This is why they are so heavy into American Politics. Fuck israel.

    boobeh says:

     My goodness, Jay.  f.y.i., Israel has never asked anybody else to defend her except for her citizens which also f.y.i, includes Christians and Muslims.  20% of Israel’s population is Arab and some of them are diplomats for their country.  Bet nobody would name you an ambassador.


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The Most Jewish Election

The 2012 presidential campaign will be a landmark for U.S. Mormons. It’ll also be the most Jewish election in history, argues a Mitt Romney adviser.