Former Massachusetts Governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney may be struggling to find support among evangelicals, but he seems to be carving a niche in winning the support of moderate, GOP Jewish voters. Interestingly, Texas Gov. Rick Perry appears to being gaining the support of the conservative Jewish voting bloc.
Perry’s Jewish support leans more to the “Orthodox” side, primarily due to his strong stance on committing to protect Israel “at all cost.”
“He’s (Perry) not one of those who call themselves friends of Israel but view that as an excuse to twist Israel’s arm,” Jeff Ballabon, a media executive and public relations expert who was a major player in helping then president George W. Bush make inroads to the Orthodox Jewish community, told The Jewish Daily Forward. “He recognizes that Israel exists under constant pressure and that true friendship is to give Israel support while it navigates its way to peace. That’s a worldview with which I am comfortable.”
Perry wasted little time after announcing this candidacy in August in trying to tie up the support of Jewish leaders. In September, he held a press conference where New York’s top Jewish leaders surrounded him, many of whom were Orthodox, as he attacked the Obama administration for the “appeasement” of Palestinian’s desire in asking the United Nations for statehood status.
Romney, on the other hand, has found his niche among the more moderate Republican Jewish voters. Only six days after Perry’s Sept. 20 press conference in New York, Romney descended upon the Big Apple to attend a fundraiser of Jewish contributors that was held in the New York office of Phillip Rosen, a longtime GOP activist. The event was co-hosted by over three dozen Jewish contributors, each of whom raised or gave a minimum of $10,000 to the Romney campaign.
Fred Zeidman, a Houston, Texas, business leader who has supported a number of evangelical candidates, including former President George W. Bush, has also worked for Romney since 2007.
“Every major Jewish Republican fundraiser that I know has been with Mitt since his first run for president,” Zeidman told The Jewish Daily Forward.
Mel Sembler, who served as U.S. Ambassador to both Australia and Italy in each of the Bush presidencies, and is what is considered a “heavyweight” in fundraising circles, has also signed on with Romney.
“I supported Mitt in ’07 and ’08 and took him to Israel with me in ’07,” Sembler told The Christian Post. “I’ve always been impressed with his business experience and understanding of our economy. Rick [Perry] is a good friend and I’ve supported him in his races for governor. But Mitt has twenty-five years of business experience and four years of political experience. I like that combination much better.”
A survey conducted over the Jewish holiday season in September of this year by the American Jewish Committee, asked Jewish voters a number of questions on Israel, U.S. policies and other issues deemed as important to Jewish citizens.
When those surveyed were asked to choose between Romney and Perry in a general election matchup against President Obama, 32 percent said they would support Romney and only 25 percent said they would vote for Perry.
However, 45 percent of those surveyed identified themselves as Democrat, and 41 percent of those said they were “liberal.” Forty-three percent said they “approved” of Obama’s handling of Iran’s nuclear threat against Israel with 45 percent saying they “disapproved” of the U.S. position.
“Obama is losing support in the Jewish community,” said Sembler. “I think that’s evident on every fundraising trip he’s making to New York.”
As controversial as the story surrounding Dr. Robert Jeffress, the Dallas pastor who called Romney’s religion of Mormonism a “cult,” has been, the issue has generated very little discussion within the Jewish community.
“It’s disturbing to think we’re going to bring religion into the presidential primary,” said Sembler. “Eventually we’re going to have to get past the religion issue and pay more attention to who is and who is not qualified to be president.”
The former ambassador also feels the recent rise in Herman Cain’s poll numbers won’t last too long.
“Cain is an outstanding businessman but his lack of political experience concerns me and many others I speak with. I just feel Romney has the right combination and can defeat President Obama next year.”