NEW YORK – A few votes can make all the difference in swing states, where votes are almost evenly divided between the two presidential candidates. Just ask Al Gore, who in 2000 lost the presidency to George W. Bush by all of 537 votes cast in Florida.
Jews for Progress (JFP) aims to not let that happen, at least not when it comes to Jewish voters, in 2016’s battleground states, which include Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Nevada. The new pro-Hillary Clinton Democratic Super Political Action Committee, or PAC, is officially being launched Thursday, its goal being to raise between $2.5 million and $5 million to reach Jewish voters in battleground states and convince them that she is the best choice when it comes to Israel-related issues.
That’s just a fraction of the $25 million they say the Republican Jewish Coalition and allied donors are raising to tout Donald Trump as best for Israel. Fred Brown, spokesman for the RJC, would neither confirm nor deny that amount, saying, “We never discuss our spending plans or donors.”
“We know there’s going to be a micro campaign from them targeting the Jewish community in the swing states, and we think there needs to be a response,” said Marc Stanley, immediate past chair of the National Jewish Democratic Coalition, who has an untitled but central role in the new super PAC.
Trump currently has a slight edge in key battleground states, according to some recent polls, though candidates generally enjoy a bounce immediately following their party’s convention.
The people behind JFP say they are worried about what may happen closer to election day in November.
“There has been a repetition each presidential cycle of an orchestrated misinformation campaign promoted by the Republican Jewish Coalition and [casino magnate/Republican super-donor] Sheldon Adelson,” said Ron Klein, chair of Jews for Progress and a former Democratic congressman from south Florida. “They go into the community with all sorts of lies, misinformation and exaggerations, things to distort the record of Democrats to the Jewish community. There’s a very public effort to discredit Hillary Clinton. They recognize that two thirds to three quarters of American Jews are naturally Democrats, but they try to shear off 10 percent.”
“We are very pleased with our success, making inroads with Jewish voters in five of the last six presidential elections and increasing our vote share by over 300%,” said RJC’s Brown, when asked to respond.
In a close election like the 2000 contest, when Klein’s district was the heart of the hard-fought war over “hanging chads,” or which way votes were actually cast on the paper ballots used at the time, “it can make all the difference. It affected the whole country,” said Klein. He now heads the Israel-practice group at a south Florida law firm, connecting Israeli companies with American investors and distributors.
Jews’ votes pivotal in swing states
Jewish voters can make a critical difference in many elections, said Stanley. When Democrat John Kerry challenged George W. Bush in the 2004 election, “Kerry lost Ohio by about 17,000 votes and did not become president,” said Stanley, an attorney whose firm is in Dallas. “In swing states, if there’s a close election, the Jewish community plays a very pivotal role. The Jewish vote in Florida, Ohio or Pennsylvania could swing an election.”
The RJC, which is backing Republican nominee Trump, had strong words about Clinton in response to the criticism of its criticism.
“Hillary Clinton’s support for the Iran nuclear deal, her acceptance of radical Democrat policies, and overseeing the foreign policy agenda of an administration that has weakened our relationship with Israel speaks for itself,” Brown told Haaretz. “Today’s Democrat Party has moved far out of the mainstream of Jewish American voters and can no longer be considered a reliable friend of Israel. Just look at what’s been happening at the Democrat convention, as the Palestinian flag flies on the floor while the Israeli flag burns outside.”
Brown referred to the burning of an Israeli flag outside the Philadelphia convention center on the second night of the Democrats’ gathering, and the unfurling of a Palestinian flag by a few attendees inside the arena.
Connecting things like that to Clinton “is misleading,” said Klein. “Those are issues that have nothing to do with her.”
And despite efforts by some delegates dedicated to former candidate Bernie Sanders to make the Democratic Party platform tilt toward Palestinians, the people behind Jews for Progress say the party is as strongly pro-Israel as ever.
In its Israel section, the Democratic platform reads very similarly to the Republicans’ platform. Both voice commitment to Israel’s security and military edge over its enemies. Both also explicitly oppose the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement, and say that Jerusalem should remain Israel’s capital.
Day-to-day running of Jews for Progress is in the hands of Steve Rabinowitz and Aaron Keyak of the Washington D.C. firm Bluelight Strategies. They also run the office of the National Jewish Democratic Coalition.
Jewish Dem money spread thin
During the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, Jews for Progress leaders are making the rounds of potential backers. They hope to raise money from some who have already donated big to the Clinton campaign or one of her supporting super PACs, as well as from new sources. “Jewish donors have so many homes in the Democratic party. That money’s spread all over the campaign, PACs supporting Hillary and the DNC,” Stanley said.
“In the Republican Party it’s a much smaller sea and the Jewish donors tend to aggregate their funds within the RJC. [Israel is] the pet cause of their lead donor, Sheldon Adelson, [who] is worth over $18 billion,” Stanley said. “He’s the Jewish community’s version of the Koch brothers, and he can influence whatever he wants.”
In response, the RJC’s Brown said, “Maybe you should ask them if they’ll be soliciting and accepting donations from George Soros,” referring to the billionaire who is viewed by conservatives as someone as extreme on the left as Adelson is viewed on the right by liberals.
Adelson, who has given hundreds of millions of dollars to Republican candidates over the years, is on the RJC board of directors. In May, according to The New York Times, he pledged to give Trump as much as $100 million in support of his effort to beat Clinton.
Indeed, Jews top the list of donors to the second largest pro-Clinton PAC, Priorities USA. It has raised over $100 million, and its list of donors includes Soros, who has donated $7 million of the overall $25 million he has committed to donating to Clinton. Soros’ son Alex, who started his own Jewish PAC focused on domestic issues, gave Priorities USA $1 million. Hollywood fixture and longtime Clinton supporters Haim Saban and his wife, Cheryl, have donated $10 million. Chicago media magnate Fred Eychaner contributed $5 million. And SlimFast founder S. Daniel Abraham has kicked in $3 million.
Jews for Progress’ strategy will center on a “multi-media social media effort to communicate the true story of Hillary Clinton’s support for Israel and Jewish values,” Klein said. “As a U.S. senator she supported Israel on Iron Dome, funding and appropriations, on the issues important to having a more stable environment. As secretary of state she negotiated cease fires between Hamas and Israel,” Klein said. “We want Jewish voters to know that she is very strong, from her heart, on Israel.”
“Most of it will be highly targeted at individual Jews, particularly in swing states through direct voter contact,” said another person centrally involved with the Super PAC, who asked not to be named. “We’ll use email, postal mail, phone. Whether or not there’s a field program involving door knocks is a more complicated question. There will be tons of [advertising on] ethnic media, newspapers, video. Tons of social media, maybe even television,” said the source.
When asked how the RJC plans to deploy its $25 million in those swing states, Brown declined to offer details, saying, “We won’t make our 2016 strategy publicly available for our Democrat opponents to access.”