“We’ve seen a dramatic spike in the percentage of voters we’re able to directly connect with, compared to pre-COVID circumstances, which makes these modes of grassroots outreach even more valuable,” Republican Jewish Coalition spokesperson Neil Strauss told JNS.
By Jackson Richman, JNS
As restrictions related to the coronavirus are being incrementally lifted nationwide, Jewish and pro-Israel political groups ahead of the November presidential elections have continued to conduct their business online since March, when closures first started.
While groups such as the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA), Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) and the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) have been hosting virtual events, like any other organization, the relatively new reality is causing them to shift strategy in terms of organizing and campaigning.
Even before the pandemic, JDCA has “always been focused on digital advertising and organizing,” and has been “only increasing these efforts with the support of our donors to organize across the country to elect Joe Biden as the next president, usher in a Democratic-led Senate and maintain Democratic control of the House,” JDCA executive director Halie Soifer told JNS.
JDCA has hosted an online event with surrogates of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, in addition to webinars with other prominent Democrats, including U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.).
JDCA has endorsed Biden, in addition to 50 or so candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
The organization also “hosted the largest national virtual phone bank for Jewish voters this election cycle, and has also launched chapters in swing states, including Wisconsin and Ohio, and is launching others before the end of June,” said Soifer.
JDCA has released several ads in support of Biden, contrasting him and his record with U.S. President Donald Trump, and focusing on “the increased danger under Trump posed by the rise of white nationalism and anti-Semitism,” said Soifer.
DMFI has held informational virtual events, including with Biden foreign-policy adviser and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, and former Biden chief of staff and White House Ebola head Ron Klain.
The organization has also pushed for Democrats to adopt a softer tone on Israel, possibly applying sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, including playing an “active role” in watering-down a letter by Democratic senators warning Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz about annexation.
This effort by DMFI included sending a memo to all the Democratic Senate offices and having meetings with some of them.
“In a non-COVID world, you could go out and meet with people in person,” said Mellman. Here, you do it on the phone and email, and so on. So it’s different, but the work goes on.”
He added that “we switched from phone calls to Zoom,” the video-conferencing application many people and businesses have been using amid the pandemic.
“We were doing phone calls before to bring people together from around the country who may not be able to be in the same place at the same time,” he said. “So instead of doing those calls, we switched to virtual events, but that have video with them like Zoom.”
Mellman said conducting events in this manner has allowed for a more interactive experience.
DMFI’s political action committee, DMFI PAC, has been involved in a number of Democratic primary races. For example, it did a six-figure buy against former CIA agent Valerie Plame, who in 2017 shared an anti-Semitic article and ended up losing on June 2 to attorney Teresa Leger Fernandez in the Democratic primary in New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District.
Along with supporting Biden, endorsed by DMFI in March, DMFI PAC has been focused solely on primary races, some of which were pushed off due to the global pandemic.
Races include the June 23 race between Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee, and progressive Jamaal Bowman in New York’s 16th Congressional District. Bowman, who has been endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and the group Justice Democrats have been critical of Israel, such as calling for conditioning U.S. assistance to there; Engel is known as a steadfast supporter of the Jewish state.
‘Conducting business digital has been beneficial’
On the other side of the aisle, the Republican Jewish Coalition has been campaigning to re-elect Trump and other Republicans, in addition to new GOP candidates to Congress. The organization’s National Victory Team “has been conducting extensive Jewish outreach after seamlessly transitioning to virtual grassroots efforts,” RJC spokesperson Neil Strauss told JNS.
RJC has so far “executed 11 successful National Days of Action, with hundreds of RJC volunteers participating across the country, supporting President Trump and the GOP,” he said.
Conducting business digitally has been beneficial, maintained Strauss, who cited his organization’s “increased ability to reach more voters at home” through “phone calls, text messages, email, digital, social media, etc.”
“We’ve seen a dramatic spike in the percentage of voters we’re able to directly connect with, compared to pre-COVID circumstances, which makes these modes of grassroots outreach even more valuable. Since March 1st, we have spoken to 106,968 persuadable Jewish voters in specific battleground states using our cutting-edge technology, our large investment in data modeling to discover Jewish voters—data no one else has—and the best volunteers in politics.”
Despite the millions of jobs lost and businesses shuttered due to COVID-19, the RJC’s political action committee, RJC PAC, has experienced “very strong” fundraising, following “a slight downturn” during the first few weeks that social-distancing guidelines were put into effect across the country earlier this year, according to Strauss.
“Fundraising for the RJC has similarly been quite successful,” he said. “What we are seeing from our members is that they are especially energized for this election.”
Strauss emphasized that “President Trump has been the most pro-Israel president in history. He has stood shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish community to combat anti-Semitism, and he has delivered an economic climate that will prove ready to bounce back from COVID-19 and resume being the strongest economy in our lifetime.
“When faced with the reality of needing to re-elect President Trump, holding the Senate, and winning back the House versus the alternative of Democrat leadership, our membership has responded in a big way. Through this support, we have been able to maintain our commitment to putting forth our largest ever effort this election season.”
He said that Americans “will see our ads on TVs and devices, get our mailings, and hear from our staff and volunteers this year because our supporters have made that investment in us.”
Reaching out to all voters, including the less tech-savvy
Also important to note is that those without access to devise or high-tech apps won’t be shut out of the technological political campaign season, the aforementioned organizations told JNS.
“No matter where a voter may fall on the tech-savvy spectrum, almost all voters know how to use and operate a basic phone system,” said Strauss. “RJC is currently in the process of organizing special tele-town hall events featuring high-profile VIPs that even the least tech-savvy voters will be able to participate in.”
Additionally, continued Strauss, “streamlined programming, along with other grassroots outreach such as direct mail, will enable RJC to connect and appeal to all Jewish voters.”
Soifer said her organization has been “providing training for all our volunteers to phone bank and text bank, and JDCA volunteers are already busy making calls to voters. The biggest change in light of the pandemic is that we will not be canvassing for the foreseeable future, and we’re advocating for expanded vote by mail.”
For DMFI’s Zoom events, participants can also choose to call in by phone instead of using the video feature.
Still, Mellman acknowledged that “if you don’t have a phone or a computer, it’s a lot harder for you to plug in, there’s no question about it.”