Cruz or Rubio? After Close Iowa Vote, Battle for Jewish Support Will Intensify

The stage is also set for an in-house match between Republican kingmaker Sheldon Adelson, who reportedly prefers Rubio, and his wife Miriam, who backs Cruz.

Senator Ted Cruz pauses while delivering remarks during his campaign's caucus night celebration at the Elwell Center in Iowa on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016.
Bloomberg

It must have been a tense morning in Sheldon Adelson’s household following the Iowa vote if it is, in fact, true that casino billionaire and political kingmaker Sheldon Adelson’s first choice for the GOP presidential nomination is Marco Rubio while his influential wife Miriam far prefers Ted Cruz.

Whether or not this is the case, like true Las Vegas pros, the Adelson’s family money officially backed the winner - Cruz, who scored a victory in Iowa with 28 percent of the vote over Donald Trump’s 24 percent. 

As Iowans were about to head to their caucuses on Monday, the news broke that both Sheldon and Miriam Adelson individually gave the maximum permitted direct personal donation to the Cruz campaign last quarter - $2,700 each, a clue to where their preferences lie, even though they have not officially endorsed any of the candidates who showed up at the so-called “Sheldon Adelson primary” back in April. 

But as an extended family, the Adelsons hedged their bet and also put money on Rubio, who had a strong showing in Iowa with a third-place finish at 23 percent, which put him squarely at the top of the pack of so-called “establishment” Republican candidates. Federal Election Commission reports also showed that Miriam Adelson’s daughter and her husband, and another Adelson son-in-law each donated the maximum $2700 to the Rubio campaign on December 7. 

These amounts, of course, are chicken feed compared to the hundreds of millions the Adelsons and their empire put into the super PACS of candidates in past races - and will likely do again once they settle on a favorite, but these donations offer an interesting indicator. 

While the Iowa results did nothing to resolve the struggle on the Democratic side, with the battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders too close to call, it is likely to spark a major shake-up on the Republican side.
 
The combined strong showings of Cruz and Rubio has taken the sheen of invincibility off of the Trump campaign, and most Republicans who are worried about a Trump candidacy in the general elections hope that Iowa will be the beginning of Trump fading into a sideshow, as seems to have happened with the once-robust Ben Carson effort. 

It seems likely now that Cruz and Rubio will battle it out - with Cruz aiming for the angry outsider GOP voters who have been supporting Trump to add to his socially conservative and evangelical-heavy base, and Rubio collecting support from the crowd of candidates with mainstream appeal, many of whom are likely to drop out of the race in coming weeks as pressure grows for the party to rally around a smaller number of contenders. 

Most of the Jewish community clearly feels more comfortable with Rubio than Cruz, as he is closer to the establishment and has a youthful Obama-esque mainstream appeal. Cruz has ruffled feathers with his attacks on “neoconservatives” by contrasting his foreign policy philosophy with that of the establishment responsible for the Iraq war and saying that “some of the more aggressive Washington neocons, they have consistently misperceived the threat of radical Islamic terrorism.” He has also disparaged “New York values” - a comment that some have seen as backhanded references to Jews. 

Also, while Rubio, like Cruz, is an evangelical Christian, he is a far less extreme and fire-breathing breed than Cruz, one that believes less in the fusion of religion and politics and the definition of the United States as a “Christian nation” that makes American Jews uncomfortable. 

Rubio already gained the support of wealthy and influential Republican donors like Paul Singer, whose backing is as important as Adelson’s. Whether he will be able to add Sheldon and Miriam Adelson’s substantial resources to his war chest will have to be hashed out at the couple’s dinner table.