Barack Obama, Sheldon Adelson and the Politics of the Jewish Vote

Republican Jews are trying to prove there is nothing predetermined about the Jewish vote, while their Democratic counterparts are driving home the point that Romney's agenda has nothing to do with the community's liberal values.

Americans all across the country are biting their nails in anticipation of Tuesday's election, cautiously keeping an eye on the polls and the narrow gap between the candidates, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Each side is hoping the man it supports emerges victorious. Among those keenly awaiting the results are American Jews, some of whom have been deeply involved in campaigning for the candidates: The Republicans, on one hand, are trying to prove there is nothing predetermined about the Jewish vote, while their Democratic counterparts are driving home the point that Romney's agenda contradicts the community's liberal values. 

For political junkies, the U.S. presidential elections have provided a curious showcase of two different strategies among U.S. Jews: The Republican Jewish Coalition, with generous support from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, launched an ambitious campaign targeting voters in swing states, specifically fellow Jews who grew increasingly disappointed in Obama and his policies, not to mention his relations with Israel. On the Democratic side, veteran Washington insider and former press aide to Bill Clinton Steve Rabinowitz helped the Obama camp exercise damage control in the wake of the administration's bumpy relationship with Jerusalem.

In the months leading up to the elections, a team of Obama supporters led by Rabinowitz targeted Jewish media, working to get op-eds published supporting the U.S. president and his administration's support for Israel, researching topics relevant to the Jewish community, making calls and organizing briefings.

Rabinowitz says this compact "task force" - ten staffers in total, including one intern - was his idea. He told Haaretz that he thought the Obama campaign got off to a good start by hiring Ira Forman, the former National Jewish Democratic Council official, who has headed up Jewish outreach for the Obama camp.

"But I was afraid of the amount of Republican money that was going to be spent and the risk that they might even have some success attempting to paint the president as anything less than in step with the [Jewish] community," Rabinowitz says. "We always knew who the president was and where he stood, but there was no way to know if this unprecedented amount of money being spent against him would have any impact. I always say that every four years Republicans say this is the year Jews are going to trend Republican, then every subsequent November it proves untrue. Well, this year could have been different. Not because of Obama; because of the obscene amount of money."

Rabinowitz hopes the Republican Jewish Coalition effort does not pay off.  "In the end, except for the extraordinary amount of Republican money, it looks like it will be little different. And good for the Obama campaign: Finally a Democratic presidential campaign really did a substantial amount of Jewish outreach on its own and didn't rely solely on NJDC. And good for NJDC: They raised some good money and did some great stuff, particularly near the end."

When we tell Rabinowitz that the Republicans' attempts may have paid off in at least one crucial state – Florida – where some polls favor Mitt Romney, he responds: "All the independent polls – all of them – show Obama with a very wide lead among Jews," he says.

He continues: "So, did Adelson et al. succeed in any way? Well, he for sure made us spend a lot of time and money in places we otherwise wouldn't have needed to. As for a very smart, very successful businessman, did he get any 'return on investment?' It would appear [he got] absolutely none at all."

On Wednesday, the Republican Jewish Coalition will reveal its Jewish exit poll data. The results will likely have an impact on the elections four years down the line, mostly in terms of whether the community will be courted again - or not. It's a little too early to tell, but if Jewish support for Obama (78% in 2008) hasn't changed significantly this time around, both sides might lose interest in reaching out to the 2% of the population in the future.

A polling station in Virginia