“I’ll introduce you to some Jewish women,” offered Suzanne Kurtz, spokeswoman for the Republican Jewish Coalition.
It wasn’t exactly the typical sales pitch to attend a political event and there was no official matchmaker, yet it proved effective.
A joint vice presidential debate-watching party that RJC’s National Women’s Committee co-hosted with the Republican womens’ groups RightNOW! and Women Impacting the Nation (WIN) drew a crowd of a couple hundred Republicans including many Republican Jews to cheer Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and jeer Sen. Joseph Biden to a downtown Washington law firm.
The event attracted a crowd of mostly young women, but also a large number of men, who not surprisingly gave Palin stellar reviews for her debate performance.
“Sarah Palin is going to kick some tuckus,” Shelley Hymes, a member of all three organizations predicted during a reception prior to the debate.
Hymes was not disappointed in the Republican vice presidential nominee’s performance.
“I thought she was amazing,” she said immediately after the 90-minute debate ended. “She surpassed expectations.”
Thursday night’s event was one of a number of events planned by RJC’s women’s committee since GOP nominee John McCain selected Palin as his running mate.
Though analysts say Palin’s selection may scare off some Jews concerned about her lack of foreign policy experience, it’s been a boon to the women’s group.
“For groups like mine, this is an unprecedented time,” said Lisa Spies, the group’s executive director. Spies said she’s receiving 20 to 30 e-mails a day compared to three to four a week pre-Palin.
The group is planning other watch parties for upcoming debates and election night, but no major fundraising push is planned to take advantage of the enthusiasm.
“Right now I’m just excited to get people participating, to have people excited,” Spies said.
Like many Republicans, Jews and non-Jews, in the audience, Michael Berenhaus, an optometrist in nearby Bethesda, Md., worried before the debate about about how Palin would perform because of several shaky recent interviews with Katie Couric on CBS News and Charles Gibson of ABC News. So, he was relieved when she took strong and unwavering positions, and particularly her staunch support for Israel during the debate.
“I was nervous, but deep down I knew she could do it,” said Berenhaus, who added that “The difference between her and Democrats is she’s not going to change how she feels about Israel the next day when the Arabs protest.”
The National Jewish Democratic Council did not host a similar vice presidential debate watch party. But a spokesman said that the group doesn’t need to use promises of dating opportunities to lure guests to its events.
Friday night’s first presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain is still on. But it comes after sunset, posing a problem for observant Jews, who won’t be able to watch it.
Obama wants the television networks to re-air the debate, which will focus on foreign policy issues, on Saturday night.
He sent the following letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates:
The Honorable Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr. The Honorable Paul G. Kirk, Jr. Commission on Presidential Debates 1200 New Hampshire Ave NW Washington, DC 20036
Dear Mr. Fahrenkopf and Mr. Kirk:
Joe Biden and I are looking forward to participating in the upcoming debates, and I appreciate the hard work you and your team have put forth to bring them about. They promise to be some of the best opportunities for the voters to assess the candidates and their views prior to Election Day.
I want to raise one issue, and ask for your assistance. Due to the schedule set by the Commission and presented to the campaigns, the first debate falls on Friday night after the Jewish Sabbath has begun. Unfortunately, that means many Jewish Americans will not have the opportunity to watch the debate live. Because I know there is strong interest in this debate in the Jewish community, and to be as inclusive as possible, I ask for the Commission’s help in encouraging the television networks covering the debate to rebroadcast it on Saturday night after the Sabbath has concluded.