US Jews on both sides pushing to get the vote in final campaign days

 
Floridians stand in line to vote on first day of early voting for the general election in Miami, on Monday. (photo credit: DAVID SANTIAGO/MIAMI HERALD/TNS)
Floridians stand in line to vote on first day of early voting for the general election in Miami, on Monday.
(photo credit: DAVID SANTIAGO/MIAMI HERALD/TNS)

US POLITICAL AFFAIRS: US Jews on both sides of the political fence work to get the vote out in the campaign’s final days.

NEW YORK – With less than two weeks remaining until Election Day, the partisan Jewish organizations are prioritizing their efforts in Florida as potentially determining the outcome of the 2020 presidential race.
In their get-out-the-vote mobilization strategies, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) and the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) are each focused on a handful of battleground states with a critical mass of Jewish populations – namely, Michigan, Ohio, Arizona and Pennsylvania – but Florida, which has an estimated 650,000 Jews out of a total population of 21.5 million, appears predominant. All of these states went for Donald Trump in the 2016 election but are now leaning toward Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
Since the pandemic has made door-to-door canvasing less viable in this election cycle, both groups have pivoted to device-to-device campaigning: phone and text banking in addition to digital advertisements.
“My tactics have changed entirely,” said Josh Rolnick, a New York-based volunteer for the JDCA. Rolnick canvased in person for Barack Obama in 2012 and Hilary Clinton in 2016. He said phone banking is “an absolute numbers game,” and estimated for every 10 calls, only one person will be willing to engage in conversation. “It’s a different dynamic for sure, but I’m so encouraged when people are willing to have a conversation.”
The 50-year-old said he adapts his calling script based on what is most important to the voter he’s speaking to.
“I started with persuasion calls, and have moved to calling less likely voters, like a Democrat who has voted in one of the last two presidential elections,” he said. “Voters have talked about COVID and how the lack of response to the pandemic is such a big problem, how people are still out of work. I will articulate Joe Biden’s plan as well as I can. Other voters have said that they are tired of Donald Trump’s racism,” he said.
The most gratifying part of volunteering, said Rolnick, who is a creative writing teacher, is helping voters make their voting plan.
“Often, when I’m talking to a voter, they’re not undecided, so I ask if they have the information they need on how to vote,” he said. “There’s a lot of confusion this year around voting, and states have different rules about where you can vote absentee, so the first thing I do is ask a voter ‘Do you need help?’”
The JDCA is sending 25,000 texts per day, according to Rolnick.
“They’re incredibly successful at figuring out who the Jewish voters are in swing states and how to reach them,” he said.
In addition to call and text banking, the JDCA has placed digital advertisements aimed at more than two million Jews in the key swing states. An October ad campaign featured actor and comedian Billy Crystal and Republican commentator and now “Never Trumper” Bill Kristol attempting to rally Jewish voters in support of Biden.
“Despite their different political views and backgrounds – [Crystal and Kristol] are united in their support of Joe Biden,” JDCA executive director Halie Soifer said.
Weeks earlier, the JDCA released an ad comparing Trump’s America to Nazi Germany. Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Committee, slammed the ad, which was released just days after Biden compared Trump to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.
ON THE Republican side, the all-virtual get-out-the-vote operation looks similar, with the RJC placing a $3.5 million cable television advertisement buy in Florida counties with large Jewish populations: Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. The RJC’s signature ad this election season calls Trump “the most pro-Israel president in history.”
RJC national political director Sam Markstein called this year’s effort to deliver Jewish votes “unprecedented.”
“Whether from the resource perspective or the participation perspective, we are seeing an unmatched level of enthusiasm among our volunteers to support getting the vote out for President Trump,” Markstein said.
Among their volunteers is Phil Richmond, a 73-year-old who has campaigned on behalf of Jewish Republicans for decades, ranging from local Philadelphia campaigns to the John McCain presidential race in 2008. Richmond retired last year to Sarasota, Florida, with his wife. Since April, he’s been making phone calls targeting Jewish voters in his home state.
“We target thousands of voters with an online database. We ask a simple five-question survey, questions including whether they support President Trump and if they plan to vote by in person or by mail,” Richmond said.
He said volunteers follow scripts that are being constantly updated based on changing world conditions.
“One of our newer scripts was talking about the things President Trump has done in terms of coronavirus. He recognized the problem long before anyone else and closed off immigration from China in January. He’s going to have a vaccine on the market in less than a year,” Richmond said. “Recently a point that we emphasize on the script is how much of a friend President Trump has been for Israel. I ask them to consider that Trump has moved the embassy when no one else did.”
As for down-ballot races, this week the RJC launched an $800,000 TV and direct mail advertisement buy to reelect New York Congressman Lee Zeldin.
“He’s been a critical voice in the House for the Jewish community, and we feel it important to make sure he is reelected,” Markstein said.
Soifer said that while the majority of the JDCA’s efforts are going toward electing Biden, the New York races involving Rep. Max Rose and candidate Jackie Gordon are among their endorsements.
Rolnick added that of the voters he speaks to, most want to talk about the top of the ballot.
“We really do need to focus on the Senate,” he said, “however, in my experience, most people just want to talk about Joe Biden.”
Recent polls show a striking polarity of voting patterns between Orthodox and the American-Jewish community at large. A survey conducted on behalf of Ami Magazine released on October 14 found that 83% of Orthodox Jewish voters in the US would cast ballots for Trump. Only 13% would vote for Biden, and the rest are undecided – an upward trend from a Nishma poll taken in January that showed that only 56% of the ultra-Orthodox and 29% of the Modern Orthodox voted for Trump in 2016. Nearly 70% of the larger Jewish community planned to cast their votes for Biden, according to a Pew Research Center survey released last week.
The Orthodox projections “weren’t surprising from our perspective,” said Markstein. “There’s been a tremendous Jewish surge for Trump because he’s been so good for the issues he cares about; including school choice and supporting law enforcement,” he said.
But Soifer downplayed the significance and validity of the poll’s findings.
“The Orthodox community, while important, is a relatively small number within our community, estimated at about 10% of the Jewish electorate. Compared to other denominations, the impact of their vote is relatively small,” she said.
Soifer cited political strategist Mark Mellman’s tweet in response to the poll: “Despite a valiant effort, it’s not scientific at all. It lacks a legitimate sampling method and is built on faulty assumptions,” Mellman wrote.
“Denominations aside,” Soifer added, “Jews are overwhelmingly Democrats because the Democratic Party aligns with Jewish values, such as access to affordable healthcare, racial justice and ending the epidemic of gun violence.
“And now there are two new issues for 2020: the emboldening of white nationalism and the pandemic of COVID-19,” Soifer said.
With an estimated 10% of the Jewish electorate remaining undecided on their vote, Markstein said those voters should look at the record on issues such as the economy, Israel and antisemitism before making their decision.
“Regardless of your party affiliation,” he said, “just get out and vote.”