The stage of the Republican National Convention at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland July 13, 2016.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Republicans Overseas Israel began a massive campaign on Wednesday to have more than 300,000 American citizens in Israel who are eligible to vote to cast absentee ballots for Republican nominee Donald Trump in time to be counted in the November 8 US election.
The campaign will focus on so-called swing states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Those involved in the campaign said there were tens of thousands of Americans from those states in Israel, including 10,000-12,000 known Republicans from Florida, which could be the most critical state.
But people who have been involved in efforts to bring out the Israeli vote over the past two decades said the Republicans were starting their campaign much too late. They noted that the Israeli postal service is in disarray, and that there were still states such as Florida where registering to vote must be done through the mail.
For instance, a bipartisan effort to bring out the Israeli vote four years ago called IvoteIsrael was started in March and still had to endure many logistical challenges to quadruple the number of Israelis who voted, from 20,000 in the previous US election to 80,000.
Marc Zell, co-chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel and the vice president of the international organization Republicans Overseas, acknowledged that getting the votes in on time would be a challenge. He said that unlike four years ago when Mitt Romney was already the presumptive nominee in March, this time his organization could not take action until after the Republican National Convention two weeks ago.
“We have a lot of challenges, but I am optimistic about meeting them and getting them done,” Zell said. “It is late to do this, but better late than never. We have to move quickly. It’s not an easy task, but based on the positive reaction we have been getting, we have a shot at this.”
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To that end, Zell has been in touch with the Florida Election Commission in an effort to streamline the process of registering Floridians in Israel and getting their ballots in on time.
Zell will also have a harder time mobilizing voters, because US President Barack Obama is not running in this election, and hopes of defeating him were what brought out the vote in Israel in 2012. There are many Republicans in Israel who are less antagonistic toward Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton than they were to Obama, and who would have preferred that the Republicans nominate a candidate other than Trump.
“This is a critical election because she would be a disaster in the White House,” Zell said. “A Hillary Clinton presidency would be a third Obama term, and I don’t think Israel or America can stand that. Trump has his shortcomings, but we have to work hard to get him elected, and thousands of voters in key jurisdictions can make a difference.”
Zell said he believes seeing large support from Israel for Trump would also motivate American Jews and Evangelical Christians who live in the US to vote for him.
For the first time, Republicans Overseas Israel hired a respected team of Israeli strategists and spokesmen to help bring out the vote. The team includes former Yediot Aharonot reporter Tzvika Brot, former Naftali Bennett spokeswoman Dana Mizrachi, and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) public relations expert Yerah Tucker.
Brot went to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, which persuaded him to take on the job. Those involved in the campaign said they have a large database of American voters in Israel, but they want to use social media to reach out to young, especially first-time voters who are enamored by Trump.
The efforts will be concentrated in cities in Israel that have large American populations. Donations from American Jews are funding the effort, but those involved in the campaign said American billionaire Sheldon Adelson is not involved.
Democrats Abroad Israel is going through a restructuring and will not initiate a similar campaign. But Democrats Abroad sends emails regularly urging Israelis and other Democrats around the world to get out the vote for Clinton.
Democrats Abroad Israel held an initial organizing meeting Wednesday night in Jerusalem.
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