WASHINGTON (EJP) --- Mitt Romney secured the Republican presidential nomination of Tuesday with a victory in Texas that ensures he will now fight a head-to-head battle with current encumbent Barack Obama in November’s elections.
As the long primary battle drew to a close, Romney paid tribute to his team of “good people” and in doing so turned his attention to the all-important US Jewish vote, guided by one of his senior campaign advisors on Jewish and Israel issues, Jewish Republican and former deputy secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services under former President George W. Bush, Tevi Troy.
As voting figures from 2008’s presidential election, where Obama secured an unprecedented 78% of the Jewish vote, the demographic can be invaluable in helping to secure victory for a candidate, as Troy himself admits: “If a Republican candidate gets in the 30s, they’re almost certain to win an election. If they get under the 20s, they’re almost certain to lose.”
“There’s this 28 percent spread, which I like to think about in terms of his Hebrew gematria (numerology), which is koach, meaning strength. This 28 percent shows the disproportionate strength of the Jewish vote given its relative numbers,” he continued.
According to a survey published last month by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) on the US Jewish electorate, 45% of Jewish voters would choose Romney on the issue of US-Israel relations, compared to 42% for Obama. 22% of Jews said it was the most important issue in deciding which candidate to vote for. When the net was cast wider, however 61% of Jews said they’d vote for Obama if the election was held today, with 28% opting for Romney.
This loss of 17% of the Jewish vote for Obama, Troy says, could be enough to make a difference in Romney’s favour:
“The idea is that certain electoral districts that are heavily Jewish in which Democrats historically do very well are the districts that Democrats need in order to hold certain states... We saw in 2004 a five or six percent shift from what Al Gore got from Jewish voters in 2000 to what Kerry got in 2004. In other words, Kerry did five points worse in the Jewish community, Bush did five points better, and it had a huge impact in states like Florida and Ohio.”
On the subject of Iran’s nuclear program, however, 48% of voters would opt for Obama, compared to only 46% for Romney. This is a position that Troy rejects, claiming Romney as a staunch supporter of Israel:
“I think you’d see a more supportive approach when it comes to the US-Israel relationship. I think you’d see a president in Romney who’s more concerned with Iran building nuclear weapons than Israelis building apartment buildings in Jerusalem.”
Indeed, Romney’s campaign team have been keen to emphasise his “close relationship” with Benjamin Netanyahu going back decades, in contrast to Obama’s well-documented fractuous relationship with the Israeli Premier. Netanyahu himself refuted such claims in an interview this month with US Time Magazine in which, whilst he admitted meeting Romney while working together at Boston Consulting Group, he insisted, “we did not know each other that well. He was the whiz kid. I was just in the back of the room.” He went on to say he has not kept in regular contact with Romney, seeing him only handfuls of times in the interim period, including once earlier this year on a visit to Washington, where they discussed Iran.
Whilst American Jewish voters may remain focused on their president’s relationship with Israel, Netanyahu has not just focused on his American counterpart, instead casting the net wider, addressing Congress in 2011 and maintaining a robust relationship with the US media.
According to Israeli officials, Romney’s team have already set the wheels in motion for an early campaign visit to Israel at the end of June, an allegation his staff has so far denied. According to political consultant Jonny Daniels, who is a senior advisor to Knesset Deputy speaker Danny Danon, the trip is “definitely being planned”.
If it goes ahead, it would emulate Obama’s 2008 campaign trail, during which he paid a brief visit to the country, something he hasn’t repeated in his time in office.
“The message that it’s (an Israel visit) really going to send to us is that we have a friend,” said Daniels, adding “he’s willing to take time out of his schedule to stand with us”.
Political analysts have said such a visit would be designed to capitalise on Obama’s poorly-perceived record on Israel, with Romney having already accused the president of throwing the country “under the bus”. Romney has previously stated during his campaign that the US must “continue supporting Israel and increase military aid to our strongest friend and ally”.
Campaigning in Florida earlier this year for the Republic nomination, Romney criticised Obama’s tendency “to be critical of our friends”, tackling his record for standing with the UN in attacking Israel’s settlement policy. Some US analysts have claimed Israel is not an influential issue in determining the vote of American Jewry, which is historically more solidly Democrat, but if AJC figures are accurate, a 61% share of the Jewish vote for Obama could make for a close contest with Romney on November 6.
Meanwhile, Obama paid tribute to the Jewish contribute to US society at a White House reception to mark Jewish Heritage Month on Thursday:
“We don’t just celebrate all that American Jews have done for our country; we also look toward the future,” he said. “And as we do, I know that those of you in this room, but folks all across this country will continue to help perfect our union; and for that, I am extraordinarily grateful.”
Thanking the Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren for his work in “representing our great friend, the State of Israel”, he sought to counter criticism of his commitment to US-Israeli ties:
“Beyond our borders, we have to stand alongside our friends who share our commitment to freedom and democracy and universal rights; and that includes, of course, our unwavering commitment to the State of Israel and its security and the pursuit of a just and lasting peace,” he insisted.