Jewish activists working to ‘get out the vote’ in vital battleground Ohio

Trump is currently leading Biden in the Buckeye State, giving him a chance of 58 out 100 to win there again.

Campaign signs supporting U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden are displayed on a lawn in Cleveland, Ohio, US, October 25, 2020. (photo credit: SHANNON STAPLETON / REUTERS)
Campaign signs supporting U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden are displayed on a lawn in Cleveland, Ohio, US, October 25, 2020.
WASHINGTON – With 18 votes in the electoral college, Ohio has been long considered a “must-win state” on the way to the White House. The key battleground state has predicted the identity of the winner in the presidential election in every cycle since 1964. In 2016, President Donald Trump carried the state by eight percentage points.
According to the FiveThirtyEight polling average, Trump is currently leading Biden in the Buckeye State, giving him a chance of 58 out 100 to win there again.
While more than two million voters in Ohio have already cast their ballot, Jewish groups in the state are still working to “get out the vote.”
Larry Levine is the head of Jews Choose Trump, Ohio. “When they asked me to do that, my first comment was, ‘Oh, all four of them?’” he said. “I made a joke about it because people were not publicly supporting Trump in 2016. But quietly, there are many, many supporters, and they all say the same thing: We don’t love everything he says and does, but we love his policies.”
“Not everything he says and does is so perfect,” Levine said. “But at the end of the day, he keeps his promises. I don’t like the way he publicly handled some of the COVID. But he’s still got people working on vaccines. He’s still got a tremendous amount of work that was done.”
The Jewish community traditionally votes for Democrats in large numbers. Asked if he expects things to be different this time, Levine said: “It’s hard because our community is so reflexively Democrat. They just don’t get it that these are not your daddy’s Democrats. They’re not the same as they were 30 years ago, 40 years ago.
“I feel that there’s quite a bit of Jews whose religion is now tikkun olam [fixing the world] and justice, but only based on what their beliefs are,” he said. “I think that as a Long Island Jew, I identify more with Israeli Jews than I do with domestic [ones] because they’ve been propagandized and they’ve been lied to, [so] that they just believe everything.”
“A Jewish person in our community told me that all I care about is Israel and nothing else,” Levine said. “And I was so offended by that. I’m Jewish and, yes, I care about Israel – I always have. But I’m an American first, and I believe in the American issues. If we don’t have a strong United States, it will also hurt Israel, so it’s almost like Jews are using the old canard of dual loyalty.”
Adam Rosen, a 34-year-old attorney from Cleveland, leads the Jewish Democratic Council of America’s (JDCA) Ohio Chapter. “I think we had the only Hillary sign on our street in 2016, and there’s probably a dozen houses on our street now with Biden signs,” he said. “I think people realize there’s a lot more at stake and there’s just a lot more activity, social media, and other ways we interact with people.
“In 2016, people weren’t as energized as they are today,” Rosen said. “I think no one believed that Donald Trump, a reality television star, could become the president of the United States. So, the vote for Hillary Clinton was not as organized or as passionate as it is for Joe Biden in this election. That being said, I think you still see a very close race in Ohio.”
He said that there are more than 80,000 Jews in Cleveland, “which for a city of its size, that’s quite a substantial Jewish population.” According to Rosen, the early voting numbers in Ohio and in Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is located, are at record levels. “And it’s skewed two to one Democrat,” he said. “It’s going to come down to turnout on Election Day to really make up the difference.”
Barbara Amper is the Cleveland chapter chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “I think Ohio will comfortably vote for Trump,” she said.
Mobilizing voters at a time of a pandemic is not easy, Amper said. “A lot of people are just staying away. Some would help from home; people don’t want to go out. They’re being very, very careful.”
With COVID-19 preventing in-person events, Amper said that most of the get-out-the-vote efforts are made by phone. “I am basically on the phone,” she said. “Sometimes I was checking to make sure that they got their absentee ballot. Now it’s getting closer to the election, so we’re asking for poll observers. And so it changes weekly.”
Asked about the breakdown of the Jewish vote in Ohio, she said that while recent polls have shown Biden leads Trump in the community in about 70-30 margin, “there is such a thing as the silent Trumper, as I call them, people who won’t answer the phone, they won’t take a survey and they won’t tell anybody who they’re voting for. So they’re not in any of the polls. You’re not going to find them anyplace.”
Amper added that there is a wedge within the Jewish community. “[Jewish Democrats] just can’t stand it, that anybody would vote for Trump. Actions speak louder than words. He’s been such a good friend to Israel. I just do not understand how more Jews cannot back him. But I think for some reason, they’re married to the Democrat Party. I wish I knew why; I just don’t.”
Robert Saferstein, senior program adviser for JDCA, said that he is optimistic about the Democratic turnout. “We really are seeing historic numbers turning out,” he said. “Who knows what it would have been like if we had been able to canvas and meet in person. But that being said, we are seeing these record numbers – and people are turning out to vote… in historic numbers.
“JDCA as a whole is on track to contact over half a million people by election time through text banking and through phone banking,” Saferstein noted. “Our lists are targeting Jewish voters or people who either identify themselves as Jewish voters. And now we’re on ‘get out the vote’ mode. We are really just targeting Jewish voters to make sure that they do turn out to vote.”
He also addressed the US-Israel relationship and said that strong bipartisan support for Israel is “crucial.”
“It has always been the bedrock of US policy, and it needs to continue to be. The way that Trump has created these litmus tests to split that apart among the Jewish community – as well as Congress and the Democratic and Republican parties – is wrong,” Saferstein said. “Israel needs strong bipartisan support in the United States. It needs support around the world. Donald Trump has done everything in his power to seize upon that, to prey upon it, and to try to split it.”