From Omaha to Florida, Biden Bets on Jewish Votes to Deliver Victory

The Democratic presidential hopeful’s campaign is holding virtual events focusing on Jewish voters in communities large and small, with a new ‘star’: running mate Kamala Harris’ Jewish husband

Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon
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מצביעה בארה"בCredit: OCTAVIO JONES/ REUTERS
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon

The state of Nebraska is home to approximately 10,000 Jews, who make up less than 1 percent of the state’s total population. This small Jewish community, much smaller than the communities of neighboring states such as Missouri and Colorado, is now being targeted by the presidential campaign of Joe Biden, who hopes that Jewish support will help him win a crucial Electoral College vote in the so-called Cornhusker state.

On Monday, the Biden campaign will host an online event for the state’s Jewish community, part of a series of events that highlight the campaign’s focus on winning Jewish votes across the country. The event will include a speech by Rabbi Steven Abraham, who leads a Conservative synagogue in Omaha, and other local Jewish leaders. Biden’s team is using rallies like this not just to spread its messaging among the Jewish community, but also to recruit volunteers ahead of the November 3 election.

Nebraska is a reliably “red” state, and there is no doubt that a majority of the votes cast there will be for President Donald Trump. But Nebraska is also one of only two states, together with Maine, that split their Electoral College votes based on their congressional districts. The state’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes the capital Omaha and its suburbs, is much more competitive than in the state as a whole: It narrowly backed Barack Obama and Biden in the 2008 election, and Trump barely won there in 2016, despite carrying the entire state by a margin of 25 percent.

The 2nd district is home to most of Nebraska’s Jewish community, which is mostly centered in and around Omaha. In the search for the several thousand votes that could give him the district’s sole Electoral College vote, Biden is betting on substantial support from the local Jewish population. The district’s Electoral College vote could, under some scenarios, become a “tiebreaker” between Trump and Biden on Election Night, making it ever more important for both sides to win there.

A supporter with a patriotic face mask attending the opening of the Nebraska Trump Victory Office in Omaha, Nebraska, August 20, 2020.Credit: Nati Harnik,AP

'Jewish star'

What’s true in Nebraska is even more clearly true in Florida, the swing state with the largest Jewish population in the United States and, according to most political analysts, a state that Trump must win in order to secure another term in the White House; he won Florida in 2016 by a margin of approximately 110,000 votes.

Biden’s campaign has already held several events focusing on the state’s Jewish community – which is home to more than 600,000 Jews – the most recent of them last Friday. The campaign believes that expanding the Democratic advantage among this community is an important step in turning Florida from red to blue.

Friday’s virtual gathering featured the party’s new “Jewish star”: Doug Emhoff, husband of Biden’s running mate and candidate for vice president, Sen. Kamala Harris. Emhoff spoke about growing up in a Jewish family in New Jersey and visiting his Jewish grandmother in Florida as a child. He highlighted Biden and Harris’ devotion to fighting antisemitism and emphasized their support for Israel, including their commitment not to cut, withhold or condition U.S. military aid to Israel.

Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff smiling during the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention, August 20, 2020, at the Chase Center in WilmiCredit: Andrew Harnik,AP

“Joe and Kamala will stand up for the values of our community,” Emhoff said. “They have never wavered in their support for the community.” He spoke about the rise of antisemitism and mentioned Biden’s denunciation of the arson attack on a Chabad center in his home state of Delaware last week.

“Jewish Americans have seen hatred rise against us,” Emhoff added. “Joe and Kamala will stand strong against antisemitism, condemn it every time and take action.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Vice President Joe Biden, in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 21, 2016. Biden's next Jewish-focused event will be in Nebraska on Tuesday.Credit: Michel Euler/AP

Emhoff repeated Biden and Harris’ promise to restore federal funding for programs to fight against violent far-right and white supremacist groups, funding that the Trump administration had withdrawn. “They will work to root out domestic terrorism,” he said. “This is a battle for the soul of our nation.”

Another speaker at the event was Rep. Lois Frankel, a veteran Democratic Jewish lawmaker whose home district north of Miami includes President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

“I hope by this time next year he [Trump] will just be one of my constituents,” Frankel said. “So much is at stake for the Jewish community in this election.” She urged those who watched the event to make sure their family members are all registered to vote, and in light of the Trump administration’s attempts to harm the U.S. Postal Service, to “make a plan to vote as soon as you can.”

Tony Blinken, Biden’s top foreign policy adviser, spoke about the former vice president’s decades-long record regarding Israel. He said that Biden’s first-ever visit to a foreign country when he was a senator was to Israel, on the eve of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

“He met with then-Prime Minister Golda Meir, and with a young and promising politician named Yitzhak Rabin,” Blinken said. He noted that a Biden administration would undo Trump’s decision to cut all U.S. assistance to the Palestinians, noting that Israeli security officials were against those cuts. “Israelis say that aid is vital for their own security,” he explained.

But at the same time, Blinken added, Biden would support the Taylor Force Act, a law that was passed in 2018 and puts strict limitations on aid that goes directly to the Palestinian Authority as long as the PA offers financial support to families of Palestinian prisoners convicted of terror attacks.

Jewish Americans constitute only 2 percent of the total U.S. population, but they tend to vote in higher numbers than most other religious groups, and Jewish communities in competitive swing states such as Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan could make a big difference in this year’s election results.

Hillary Clinton won approximately 70 percent of the Jewish vote in 2016, while Obama – and his running mate Biden – received almost 80 percent of the vote in 2008. Biden’s campaign is hoping for a result closer to the 2008 number this November.

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