US presidential candidates court Floridians

Campaigns taking advantage of debate location in Florida to appeal to voters, including Jews, in the crucial swing state.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, JPOST CORRESPONDENT
October 22, 2012 23:51
2 minute read.
Romney, Obama point at each other during debate

Romney, Obama point at eachother during debate 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Mike Segar)

 
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WASHINGTON – Both presidential campaigns are taking advantage of Monday night’s debate location in Florida to appeal to voters in the crucial swing state, with much of the outreach taking place in areas with heavy Jewish populations.

US President Barack Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney are going head-to-head in their final debate on Monday, this one devoted to foreign policy. But each sent delegates ahead of the match-up to make the case to voters in person.

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Romney dispatched his two highest-profile surrogates, vice presidential pick Paul Ryan and wife, Ann Romney, to southern Florida. The potential first lady appeared Saturday at a “victory rally” in Boca Raton, the city hosting the debate. Ryan also came to Boca Raton for a fund-raiser on Thursday and then traveled on to West Palm Beach for another fundraiser the next day.

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Meanwhile, the Obama campaign dispatched former White House chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel to the Sunshine State on Saturday. He began with what was billed as “the first statewide push to educate Floridians about in-person absentee voting” on the west side of the state before touring senior centers and field offices Sunday and Monday on the east side, where there are large numbers of older Jewish voters.

Ken Wald, a University of Florida political scientist who has studied the Jewish vote, said that Emanuel’s background of having an Israeli father and having spent time in Israel would “play well” with Jewish Floridians, but he also assessed that the visits would have little effect on whether or not they back Obama.

“I don’t think it’s the sort of thing that changes many minds,” Wald said of the in-person appeals by surrogates. “Most people know who they’re going to vote for.”

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He added, though, that “what a visit might do is stimulate energy,” which can be important in improving turnout.

There’s also the question of how much impact the debate will have.

Veteran Washington Post political analyst Dan Balz wrote on Sunday that “never have candidate debates played as important a role...as they have in this election.”

With the candidates deadlocked in the polls, another momentous debate could make a big difference – and the debate could be momentous because even if it only makes a small difference, it could be enough to affect the election results.

That’s particularly true in Florida, where even a marginal shift could determine the outcome.

Anticipating the foreign policy discussion to come in the evening – and perhaps the many Jewish voters in Boca Raton – the Romney campaign released a new web video Monday slamming Obama on Israel, Iran and Syria.

One clip included in the ad is from an appearance by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on NBC’s Meet the Press in which he warns that, “Iran with nuclear weapons would mean that the kind of fanaticism you see storming [US] embassies would have a nuclear weapon.”

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