The Florida headquarters of the Republican Jewish Coalition reside in an office building that my simple tastes find quite ridiculous. It is Boca Raton, Florida, the beach is nearby, the sun is almost always out (not today though), but the building has an indoor mock tropical pool with trees around it, and a plasticky feel to it. A meaner writer would suggest that this is possibly a side effect of having a Las Vegas magnate as your organization’s prime supporter, but I think it's probably just a coincidence. And besides, the RJC office itself is simple and lacks any sign of glitziness. There are volunteers sitting at tables, surrounded by cardboard on which instructions are posted: “RJC phone bank instructions & script – FL”. A banner on the wall reads "Obama... Oy Vey!!"
These volunteers call Jewish voters around Florida asking “how are you?” and later moving to “as you know this is the most important election in our lifetime” – not necessarily a view shared by all. They explain why: “Israel is at risk. Our economy is weak. Unemployment rates are at historic highs”. Mike Sanders, a volunteer from Lake Worth Florida, says that his job is “to influence Jewish people to think” about their political choices. Sanders, originally from N.Y., later a military man, later of K-Mart, suspects that most of them don’t. “They vote instinctively for the Democrats”. His parents were also Democrats but he “believes” – doesn’t know for sure – that his two children (he also has three grandchildren) will vote for the right candidate, Mitt Romney.
I ask him which was the first presidential election in which he voted, and he doesn’t remember. We then do the math – 1964 is the probable answer. Did he vote for Barry Goldwater? He doesn’t remember. Judy Madison, my next interviewee, is younger but has the same problem remembering her earliest choice. Unlike Sanders though, she is not a Republican. An Independent, she voted in the past for Republicans like Ronald Reagan, as well as Democratic candidates, Jimmy Carter being one of them. Carter, Sanders tells me, was the worst American president ever, and Obama is not far behind.
Both volunteers share a dislike for Obama that is evident and quite bluntly expressed. “Obama doesn’t care for Israel at all”, Madison says. And three minutes later she adds: “He is out to destroy the country.” Sanders talks about Obama’s “background” by way of explaining the president’s desire “to distance himself from Israel”, but does so in rather vague terms. “Do you remember your religious upbringing?” he asks me. “I remember my early years, they leave a lasting impression.” Are you implying that Obama’s schooling in Indonesia is the reason for his rocky relations with Netanyahu? “I remember my early years, and that’s all I’m going to say” is his response.
Madison voted for Obama four years ago, but became disappointed with him “within the first year” of his presidency. The other day, as she was watching the second presidential debate, she was reminded that he is “an amazing speaker”. Romney – she says – “did OK”. He wasn’t great. And on some issues she doesn’t agree with him, abortion being one of them. But she wants Jewish voters to look at the “bigger picture”, at the issues that matter most, the economy, and Israel. The conversations she’s having with voters become testy at times. “Democrats often don’t even want to listen”, she says. Sanders tells me he has been called a “Nazi”, twice. Four years ago, he was “dismayed” with the Jewish community because of the vast majority of votes it gave to Obama – votes such as Madison’s. Will it be any different this time? Sanders shakes his head, rolls his eyes. Yes, he believes more Jewish voters will vote for the GOP candidate this time. “The more intelligent voters”, Madison calls them.
“Thank you for your time… have a great day!”
Get Rosner's new book The Jewish Vote: Obama vs. Romney / A Jewish Voter's Guide
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