HOLLYWOOD, Florida – In the 2008 presidential campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain, Jewish comedian Sarah Silverman put out a profanity- laden video urging her Jewish contemporaries to take a “great schlep” to Florida and convince “Nana, Papa, Zadie, Bubbie, plain old Grandma and Grandpa” to vote for Obama.
“These are the people who vote in Florida, and the Florida vote can make or break an election,” she said. And, she added, anyone with any doubts should just think back to the 2000 election when George W. Bush won the state by a 537 vote margin, and – as a result – won the election.
Tellingly, this year there was no pleading by Silverman to those of her generation to threaten their grandparents that they might not visit if they don’t vote for the Democratic candidate, because – apparently – there is a not the same sense of urgency.
An estimated 850,000 Jews live in Florida, with the bulk of them in the three southern Florida counties of Miami Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach. Jews make up some 5% of the overall Florida electorate.Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump face off in third US presidential debate
With the election just two days off, and Florida still a key state in play, there are many indications that the state’s Jews will be voting overwhelmingly for Clinton.
First are the public polls. A GBA Strategies survey in late August of Jewish Floridians gave Clinton 66 percent of the vote, as opposed to 23 percent favoring Trump, and the rest either undecided or going to the third-party candidates. That figure is very similar to the results of the 2012 election, when – according to exit polls – some 68 percent of Florida’s Jews voted for Obama.
A walk around Hollywood here, home to a significant Jewish community, finds nary a sign for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton or her Republican challenger Donald Trump on the manicured lawns lined with coconut palm trees. Instead, all one sees are a few signs for the local mayoral candidates, Joshua Levy and Eleanor Sobel.
One local resident, who asked not be identified, said that this was different from the previous national elections, when there were numerous signs for both Obama and McCain in 2008, and for Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012. The lack of lawn signs is indicative of a lack of passion or enthusiasm for either candidate, he speculated.
Casual conversations with Jewish voters in Broward County who are casting their ballots based on whom they think is best for Israel reveals deep concerns about both candidates on this issue.
Regarding Clinton, the concern is over her role – as secretary of state for Obama’s first four years – in shaping a foreign policy that aimed to place daylight between Washington and Jerusalem, in an administration that had no compunctions about airing disagreements between the two countries in public.
There is also concern about who her advisers and friends are, from Huma Abedin to Sidney Blumenthal, and how they might influence her on Israel matters.
Likewise, the choice of Tim Kaine as her running mate is frequently cited as a point of concern because of his connections to J Street, and the fact that he demonstratively skipped Netanyahu’s address to Congress in March 2015.
The misgiving about Trump on Israel revolves around an inability to predict what his Mideast policies will be.
“He is a loose cannon,” said one local Jewish leader who asked to remain anonymous.
“He is a wild card, completely unpredictable.”
This leader described the choice in Tuesday’s election as coming down to deciding who is the “evil of two lessers,” and then voting for the other candidate.
One local political activist said that many of the Jews in the area are upset at Obama’s treatment of Israel and his signing of the Iranian nuclear deal, and – had the Republicans fielded a different candidate – would have definitely voted for a Republican. Nevertheless, he said, they simply cannot get themselves to vote for Trump.
Among the hundreds of thousands of Jews in south Florida are also a high percentage of Israelis.
Although many of them cannot vote, they do have a preference.
Noa, an Israeli-born proprietor of one of Broward County’s many kosher restaurants who would give only her first name, said she lost business within the last week when a large party canceled its reservation at the last minute after they heard she supported Trump.
But her support of Trump, she said, was not the norm among the Israelis.
“Many of the Israelis here are worried that their [immigration] papers are not in order,” she explained. “And they are afraid that if Trump wins, he will start deporting people just like them.”