In tightening race, Jewish vote becomes critical in the Sunshine State

Florida is once again seen as determinative in the race to the White House.

November 3, 2016 20:56
4 minute read.
COLORADO RESIDENTS vote in the US midterm elections last week

COLORADO RESIDENTS vote in the US midterm elections. (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – No state has more sway over who will win the American presidency on Tuesday than Florida, where yet again this year, polls have tightened to a statistical tie and both candidates are pouring millions of dollars into the battleground.

The Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, has no path to victory without securing Florida’s 29 electoral college votes.

His Democratic opponents are well aware of this, and to that end are focused heavily there on turning out their base in order to stop him early on election night.

Trump can win all remaining swing states – Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Nevada in the West, Iowa and Ohio in the Midwest and New Hampshire, Virginia and North Carolina on the East Coast – and still lose the election should Clinton win Florida. The website of election statistician Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight, lists the Sunshine State as the battleground with the single highest chance of tipping the balance, by 16.7%, in either candidate’s favor.

So as this statewide race draws to a dead heat – and as early voting in the state is already well under way – each individual demographic group suddenly matters more than it had before, when Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton appeared to hold a clear lead. And as in elections past, the Jewish vote, which comprises roughly 5% of Florida’s voter population, is once again a prime target.

Only one group, a pro-Clinton super PAC called Jews for Progress, has crafted and funded an advertising campaign in these final days highly specific to Florida’s Jewish community. The ad campaign includes live stumping and social media advertising pitches from former Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman, considered the consummate Democratic moderate on issues of concern to the Jewish voter, as well as a video compilation of Israel’s Shimon Peres, Bibi Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni showering Clinton with praise over the years.

“We have not seen an aggressive level of push this time from Republicans against our candidate – I did not see billboards or surrogates around South Florida,” said Ron Klein, former member of Congress from Boca Raton and chairman of Jews for Progress. “And Donald Trump, from a Jewish community perspective that generally has Democratic leanings, just isn’t the guy that’s making the case for Jews to make the jump to the other side.”

The decision by this group to include tape of Netanyahu and former secretary of state Henry Kissinger is indicative of where they believe persuadable Jewish voters still reside: on the fence on the foreign policy positions of the two candidates, specifically on Israel, where some reliable Democrats hope for a change from a turbulent eight years in the relationship.

US President Barack Obama won 78% of the Florida Jewish vote in 2008, but lost substantial support in 2012, garnering only 67% of the demographic. He won the state overall by one point. Florida pollsters tell The Jerusalem Post that if Clinton fails to match Obama’s 2012 performance among Jewish voters, she will lose the state.

The Jews for Progress campaign video, sent out on Wednesday, targeted 50,000 specific Florida Jewish households deemed likely to be on the fence, while Lieberman’s auto call reached 110,000 households.

Overall, $125 million has been spent on advertising on Florida’s television waves – far more than in any other battleground.

Democrats lead slightly among early voters in Florida as of November 3, driven by women, Latino, and disaffected Republican voters.

African American turnout was trending lower than in the last two election cycles when the community was enthused to support Barack Obama, but those numbers appeared to shift on Wednesday.

There is no data publicly available on Jewish residents voting early.

Democrats traditionally consider early voting to be to their benefit, when they are able to maximize the advantages they have with their sophisticated ground games.

Republicans typically fair better on Election Day itself.

Obama stumped in Miami on Thursday after both candidates crisscrossed the state one day before.

“Democracy’s on the ballot,” Obama said. “Hillary Clinton will move us forward if you give her a chance. And if we win Florida, we will win this election.”

Clinton has sent several of her surrogates to rally the state, including her husband, who two weeks ago campaigned in the Jewish community.

“Every Jewish American should participate in this election, because this is about more than party,” Bill Clinton said. “If there is any group of people in this country that should understand the threat to the fundamental character of the nation and the future of our children and grandchildren posed by the choice in this election, it should be members of the Jewish community. No one should sit it out.”

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