October 24, 2012
A week on the Florida campaign trail
(Page 3 - Previous Page)
Day Five: Sun City
With the Ryan rally still fresh in my memory, I drove to a Joe Biden event the morning of Oct. 19 in Sun City, Fla. It was a much smaller event and much more scripted. The crowd was sitting on folding chairs, not standing on grass, the stage was closer up, and the fact that the vice president had a teleprompter was visible to all. It was also quieter.
Here are a few comparisons of these two events:
Energy: The Ryan event won, hands down. It drew a much larger and much more enthusiastic and committed crowd, armed with flags and signs, cheering, booing the other side, laughing, singing along. It was also a much younger audience, children and babies included. The Biden morning event was for people who could take a Friday morning off — namely, older retirees. Not that they didn’t show their support for the vice president — they did — and the echo within the closed room made it seem louder. Nevertheless, I got the feeling of a more subdued response, shorter rounds of applause, a less combative type of support.
In fact, a more enthusiastic group was to be found on the road leading to the event. South Pebble Beach Boulevard was lined with Romney-Ryan supporters carrying signs, getting the attention of the passing drivers, seeming quite cheery. If these two events are indicative of anything — and I can’t tell you whether they are until I get to see a couple more — the Romney camp seems more battle ready and more confident than the president’s camp.
Message: Biden was Biden. After so many years and so many campaigns of all types, the vice president is a well-known commodity whom people either like or dislike. Biden has traveled to Florida 24 times since the beginning of his term, 11 of them this year. His ability to connect with this audience is high — higher than Ryan’s still-untested skills at national rallies. Biden’s main topics were the economy, Medicare, jobs, health care and a mix of the currently fashionable “women’s issues.” Biden also talked a lot about economic issues, but more about Medicare and vouchers and health issues. The tweaking of the message toward more “cultural” issues is evident at this stage of the campaign. The Obama team is reading the same polls we all do and is reaching the same conclusion: The president cannot win this on the economy.
Laughs: Biden is funnier. He is funnier than Ryan, and I’m afraid he’s even funnier than Dennis Miller — at least that day he was. As I said, the mood at the Biden rally was not as combative as at the Ryan rally, but the main speaker was more entertaining.
Women: At the Ryan event, the only woman speaking got the honor of introducing the candidate. The Biden event was not only different, but went further. The woman speaking was a breast cancer survivor, hence a speaker even better tailored to convey Obama’s message of a women-friendly presidency. Emphasizing the message was Biden’s opening, in which he introduced his daughter, Ashley. “They do not believe in women’s health,” Biden said. It was right at the opening of his remarks, and the vice president delved into it with gusto.
Best line: For Ryan, I think I’ll settle on the empty chair quip. With Biden, my line of choice would be, “When the woman doesn’t get paid equally, the family suffers” — a smart way of turning the main Obama-Biden message into something all-encompassing. Another laugh came when Biden, seemingly reluctantly, “corrected” the president: Romney’s plans are not “sketchy,” they are “Etch A Sketchy,” which got him many laughs.
Foreign policy: I focus specifically on foreign policy for two reasons. One — I’m interested in the topic. Two — the foreign-policy debate was looming. Interestingly, Biden avoided Libya and most other foreign-policy issues. He did talk about Afghanistan, conveying the safe message of withdrawal. And he talked a lot about soldiers and veterans.
As I wrote earlier, the Romney team seems to believe that the Libya issue — debate moment-of-hesitation aside — is one that benefits the GOP candidate and hurts Obama. And they are not alone. As I was waiting for Biden, I had time to read a couple of articles by other commentators, and came across this paragraph from Charles Krauthammer: “Unfortunately for Obama, there is one more debate — next week — entirely on foreign policy. The burning issue will be Libya and the scandalous parade of fictions told by this administration to explain away the debacle.”
Is Biden’s silence a sign that the Obama team has similar suspicions?
Day 6: West Palm Beach
On the congressional level, only two pairs of Jewish rival candidates have survived all primary battles and other obstacles to face one another. The two Democratic congressmen of California’s 30th District race — the much-talked-about Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman. And two not-so-famous local politicians in Florida.
Meet Lois Frankel, a Democratic candidate, former mayor of West Palm Beach and former minority leader in the Florida House. And meet Adam Hasner, her Republican opponent and former majority leader in the Florida House.
Left: Lois Frankel, Democratic candidate for Florida’s 22nd District. Photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Newscom. Right: Adam Hasner, Republican candidate for Florida’s 22nd District. Photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Newscom
Polls show the race is a dead heat — or do they? One, from about two weeks ago, gave Hasner a slight advantage. Another, from a week later, said Frankel was leading, but only by three points. Internal Democratic polls, though, point to a far clearer Frankel lead. In Democratic circles, the internal polls are considered to be more serious, more nuanced and well-researched. Hasner, naturally, points to the fact that the unbiased polls are those in which there’s a tie.
I should note, however, that in my week-long visit to Florida I met a few Republican operatives who all thought that a Hasner victory would be a very big surprise in a district that is new and untested and in an area known to be more hospitable to Democratic candidates, Obama included.
Whatever happens in this race, it won’t change the House Jewish projection for the 2012 election cycle. When both candidates are Jewish, a Jew is (obviously) going to win. Of course, a Hasner victory would be both more surprising and more Jewishly significant, as it would add a second Jewish Republican to the House. Hasner is also the candidate openly putting his Jewishness forward in this race, while Frankel is much more reluctant to make a Jewish case. This is obvious for anyone looking at their Web site bios: Hasner’s says he’s Jewish in the second sentence; Frankel’s doesn’t mention it.
“The values I was brought up with reflect priorities of this community,” Frankel told me last week, when we met for a long conversation in West Palm Beach, where she had been mayor. But she believes that “Jewish voters are no different from other voters” and doesn’t feel the need to “wear my Judaism on my sleeve.”
Earlier on the day of our conversation, Hasner had met with Sol Urbach, a “Schindler’s List” survivor, at his office in Boca Raton. Urbach had come to convey his support, and Hasner apologized for being late to our meeting because he couldn’t cut short Urbach.
When Hasner talked about the Jewish voter, he sounded quite different from Frankel. “No voter should be a single-issue voter,” he said. About 15 percent of the area’s voters are Jewish, some highly involved in the campaigns. And Hasner and Frankel believe that for many, the economic issues will be front and center, and that they will be looking for the candidate who makes sense on the bigger issues of the day.
I spent a couple of hours traveling with Frankel through downtown West Palm Beach, her city. She showed me the public library, her pride — and it is not hard to see why. Frankel was an active two-term mayor, at times controversial, often confrontational. “A brash politician with big goals and the will to achieve them, no matter who stood in her way,” is how the Palm Beach Post described her.
She seemed more bored than angry when I asked about Israel. Bored by the need to defend herself, when she was “pro-Israel before Adam was even born.” Bored by the need to explain to Jewish voters that “making Israel a partisan issue doesn’t help Israel.” Israel “doesn’t need to be an issue in this campaign,” she said and quickly returned to explaining why she’s the right choice: the economy, social safety nets, women’s rights, the role of government — on all of these issues she is the one representing the interests and the desires of the 22nd District voters, so she believes.
We walked through a downtown West Palm Beach that was turned upside down and renovated under her leadership.
Conveniently, both candidates said that “differences between us are very clear,” as Hasner put it. This is, of course, true when talking about economic issues, about the Obama administration. It is also true when it comes to Israel, but in a somewhat different way: Hasner’s emphasis on the issue is in great contrast to Frankel’s dismissive reluctance to make it one.
For me, though, their markedly different answers to all questions related to the Jewish vote, to Jewish voters, was the most telling. It is reflective of two world views — one giving Judaism a central role in public life, the other considering it a more private matter; one seeking an expression of communal Jewish interests, the other refraining from any such communal otherness.
If either is more Jewishly engaged, I cannot tell. That depends in many ways on one’s definition of “engagement.” Hasner led a Florida bill of divestment from Iran, and did so, no doubt, because he felt this was an American interest and also because he felt it was his duty as a Jew. Frankel also said that her beliefs in social activism and social justice stem from her Jewish upbringing.
That they choose such different paths can lead to one of two possible conclusions: Either one of the two candidates is more influenced by Jewish values and commitments ,and the other is just faking it — or that Judaism is just broad enough to include both ideologies and ways of communicating them.
I end this here because of our press deadline; I will be posting more online from Florida in the coming days and will move to Ohio for the final week of the campaign. To read more, please visit jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.