UPDATED 8:21 A.M
With exit polls showing that Democrat Barack Obama won an estimated 77 percent of the Jewish vote, you would think that all Republicans would be disappointed.
Yet other than the fact that Obama won, Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, is declaring the election a success.
“The reality is that the Republicans were able to hold onto the gains and inroads that we’ve made in the past several elections,” Brooks told the Forward by phone around 1:30 a.m. from Minnesota, where he was helped U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman’s campaign.
“We stood tall in the face of a major tsunami,” Brooks said.
Representatives of the Republican Jewish Coalition and National Jewish Democratic Council usually spend much of their time trading charges, accusing each other of smears and other assorted provocations.
So it was perhaps a little surprising, to say the least, to see the partisan groups come together for tonight’s final presidential debate between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain at Hoftsra University in Hempstead, N.Y.
The cause of this detente, which we understand to be completely temporary, is a debate watch party at Washington Hebrew Congregation jointly sponsored by RJC and NJDC.
The behind the scenes story, we’re told, is far less noble than bipartisan accord and world peace. Rather, it boils down to the synagogue tax status and the desire for such an event to be non-partisan.
Oh, well. For those interested $10 will get you two beers, unlimited sodas, snacks and one can only assume some awkward moments.
Dueling ads by the Republican Jewish Coalition and the National Jewish Democratic Council that have been gaining a lot of attention in the Jewish press are getting some mainstream attention.
National Journal’s Ad Spotlight shines a light on this increasingly bitter fight for the Jewish vote.
“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.
Jewish voters unsure whether to cast their vote for Barack Obama or John McCain, might want to think about this little bit of advice U.S. Representative Alcee Hastings offered about Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate:
“If Sarah Palin isn’t enough of a reason for you to get over whatever your problem is with Barack Obama, then you damn well had better pay attention,” the Florida congressman said during a National Jewish Democratic Council panel.
“Anybody toting guns and stripping moose don’t care too much about what they do with Jews and blacks. So, you just think this through,” Hastings said.
Congressman Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., later told the same group that Jesus was “a great Democrat,” according to CNN.
The Republican Jewish Coalition, which has been accused of its own share of gross distortions, is denouncing Hastings’ comments as “the worst kind of politics.”
“Hastings’ unconscionable remarks do nothing but sow seeds of fear and divide people,” said RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks in a statement. “There should be no place in our country for this sort of political discourse. We can constructively disagree on the issues without denigrating others.”
He also said Cohen’s remark “inappropriate, offensive and should be repudiated.”
The RJC recycles quotes from Hillary Rodham Clinton (March 2008), John Kerry (April 2004) and Chuck Schumer (November 2003).
But what’s sure to elicit an interesting responses at the NJDC conference is a quote by NJDC Executive Director Ira Forman.
“I have to take my hat off to [McCain] for putting principle in front of politics… I wish there were more John McCains,” Forman is quoted as saying.
Of course, RJC had to go way back to an Oct. 1, 1999 JTA story to find such a kind comment.
We couldn’t find the story RJC cites. Forman has characterized the GOP ad campaign as a bunch of smears.
RJC responded to a request for additional information noting that “It’s a JTA story.” But a spokesperson has not provided a copy of the story yet.
UPDATE: Forman says he doesn’t remember the quote, which he’s been informed came in the context of praising McCain for urging that Patrick Buchanan be kicked out of the Republican Party for his fringe views.
The important thing, according to Forman, is that “the four people that are quoted there, me, Hillary, Kerry and Schumer, we all agree on one thing – John McCain is not the best person for president. Barack Obama is the best.”
Forman did say that he still wishes there were more John McCains. Of course, it came in the context of his noting that “the [John McCain] who exists today bears no resemblance to the one from 1999.”
Forman also enjoyed the irony of the latest RJC ad highlighting his praise of McCain for criticizing Buchanan. Less than a week ago, RJC released an ad that highlighted Buchanan’s comments as it sought to draw a connection with Obama.
Here are the rest of the quotes:
After the invitation for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate, to speak at next week’s “Stop Iran” rally in New York was rescinded, the blame game began.
The Republican Jewish Coalition joined with the McCain campaign to blame Democratic partisanship for Palin’s removal, which they say hands victory to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Democrats, including Ira Forman of the National Jewish Democratic Council countered that the inappropriate invitation to Palin had turned what was supposed to be a non-partisan event into a campaign rally organized by a leading Jewish organization.
“Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad has been quite clear of his intentions to acquire nuclear weapons; his anti-Semitic rants and desire to annihilate Israel are well-known,” RJC executive director Matt Brooks said in a statement. “Today Senators Obama and Biden and their supporters have handed Ahmadenijad a big win. What should have been a strong effort by the Jewish community to stand up and show the world that we are united in our fight against this madman has instead been hijacked by those with a political agenda. This is a very sad day for the Jewish community.”
Brooks said he was also disappointed that neither Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama nor his running mate, Joseph Biden, chose to participate in the rally. But neither Obama or Biden were invited, which was one of the central complaints of their campaign.
Forman told reporters on a conference call Thursday afternoon that it was wrong for rally organizers to invite only one party to the non-partisan event.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton backed out of the rally earlier in the week after learning of the Palin invitation. Clinton expected a comparable congressional Republican representative would share the stage with her, but didn’t expect to be paired up with the GOP vice presidential candidate at such an event, Forman told reporters on a conference call.
No, the conservative commentator and former presidential candidate is not endorsing Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as the headline of this post or a new ad by the Republican Jewish Coalition might suggest.
But the latest ad from RJC could lead some people to conclude that Obama has or wants Buchanan’s backing.
The ad [shown below], borrows from recent quotes from Buchanan praising what he and the ad say are Obama’s positions on Israel and Palestinians.
Buchanan recently told MSNBC: “Let me say about Israel here. My position on Israel is frankly awful. It is like Mika [Brzezinski]’s father’s, it’s a lot closer to Barack Obama’s than it is John McCain. I think Barack is right, we ought to talk to the Iranians, he’s right to oppose the war and, frankly, he’s right to say the Palestinian people have got a terrible deal over there and their suffering ought to be recognized. That’s Obama’s position. It’s my position. I don’t think it is a Nazi position.”
RJC was quick to point out that it wasn’t suggesting that Obama supports Buchanan’s views. “Rather, we are highlighting the fact that Buchanan believes that his views are in line with Obama’s on the critical issues of Israel and Iran,” said RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks said in an accompanying press statement. “Because Pat Buchanan shares Obama’s views on Iran and Israel, how comfortable can the Jewish community be with those positions?” Brooks added.
Brooks stood by the ads when we caught up with him. Democrats accused RJC of engaging in a campaign trying to frighten Jewish voters by insinuating Buchanan’s support.
In what’s sure to draw fire from Democrats and Barack Obama’s campaign, the Republican Jewish Coalition unveiled two tough new ads sure to evoke strong emotions, not to mention controversy.
Under the headline, “Concerned about Barack Obama? You should be,” the ads shown below feature a series of pictures of Iranian President Ahmadinejad, other Muslim leaders and protesters burning an Israeli flag.
The text quotes Obama telling an audience that “Iran, Cuba, Venezuela…don’t pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us.” The ad notes Obama’s willingness to hold direct talks with nations such as Iran, though Obama has said that doesn’t mean options including the use of force would be off the table. It also cited his opposition to legislation designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist entity.
Another ad says “History has shown that a naive and weak foreign policy has resulted in tragic outcomes for the Jewish people” and claims Obama “surrounds himself with anti-Israel advisors…”
UPDATE: Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, responded: “Because Republicans Jews are intellectually brain dead, the only thing they know how to do is fear and negativity. They have nothing positive to say about their candidate.”
He went on to compared the RJC’s tactics of taking text out of context to bolster their political arguments to the tactics employed by the former KGB.
“It’s hard to imagine that somebody would have no shame to distort a record the way the RJC does,” Forman said.
Responding to some of the specifics of the charges, Forman noted that Obama made clear he supported targeting the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, but opposed the Kyl-Lieberman legislation along with other Democrats, who feared it would be interpreted by the Bush administration as a blank check to invade Iran.
Forman downplayed the impact of the ads, noting that GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is “the perfect example of inexperience in foreign policy.”
NJDC plans to unveil its own ads as early as this week.
RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks responds with the following statement:
“Rather than engaging in name calling and ad hominem attacks which Mr. Forman does, I would simply point out that all the points in our ads are undisputed facts and are all listed with citations. I invite people to look for themselves and judge if in fact we are taking things out of context. Or is Mr. Forman trying to deflect attention from the reality of the situation – compared to most Democratic candidates, Barack Obama is underperforming among Jewish voters. Every poll reflects that many Jewish voters have doubts and concerns about Barack Obama.”
Here are the two new ads from the Republican Jewish Coalition:
UPDATED 7:02 p.m. Mountain Time
Much has been made of the balancing act that Barack Obama’s campaign has had to walk as it tries to honor and respect Bill and Hillary Clinton without detracting from what should be Obama’s moment during this week’s Democratic National Convention. But the role of another former president is proving equally vexing.
The inclusion of former President Jimmy Carter during tonight’s Democratic National Convention program has created an awkward situation for Democrats, who don’t want to slight a former Democratic president but also fear offending Jewish voters and other Israel supporters.
Carter has called Israel’s treatment of Palestinians “one of the greatest human rights crimes on earth,” as the Republican Jewish Coalition reminded in a news release calling on Democrats to pull Carter from tonight’s convention line-up.
“Jimmy Carter’s long history of anti-Israel bias has rendered him unfit to address the Democratic Convention,” RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks said in a statement.
Democrats’ solution: Carter’s contributions were recognized during a tribute video on his recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but he had no speaking role.
In his taped remarks, Carter predicted an Obama administration would do more to help the poor.
The former president and former First Lady Rossalyn Carter received a warm reception and the first standing ovation of the night from delegates when they walked onto the convention stage and the sounds of Ray Charles’ “Georgia on my Mind” filled the Pepsi Center.
That didn’t sit well with all delegates such as Florida state Sen. Nan H. Rich.
“He hasn’t shown respect to Israel and many of the Jewish constituencies here based on the things he has done,” said the Florida delegate who planned to walk out of the convention hall.
Rich said she respects the presidency, but not Carter.
Carter was originally scheduled to address delegates. Some Jewish leaders saw the change in plans as an effort by Democratic officials to address concerns about Carter.
“If we didn’t matter they wouldn’t have all this focus and preoccupation on Carter’s speaking,” Rabbi Marc Schneier said this morning, adding that “It’s a backward compliment to the Jewish community.”
“If there’s anything positive it’s that the Obama campaign acknowledges how much of a lightening rod Jimmy Carter is within the Jewish community,” he said.
Of course, a lot will depend on what Carter has to say, according to Schneier and other Jewish leaders who hope the former president will steer clear of foreign policy matters.
While Rudy may be taking a hit today for his turn coat support of the Bo-Sox, JTA’s Beth Young has a story that reviews his continued favored status among board members of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
According to Young, RJC’s lay leaders have contributed $58,750 to Giuliani, compared to $35,900 for McCain and $31,200 for Romney. (Everyone else is batting $0.)
At the RJC convention in DC, Rudy was definitely the crowd favorite, with a hawkish address that mentioned Ronald Reagan at every turn (Bush who??). But a number of attendees in the crowd told me Rudy was their favored candidate partially because they thought he had the best chance of winning, while they still had love for and/or interest in McCain, Romney and Thompson. Several told me they worried Rudy would never win over the Republican base, or that he would eventually be undone by his “bull in a china shop” persona.
It’s no suprise that the former New York City mayor is ahead with Jewish donors. The open question is if he is igniting enough passion in the GOP to actually win in the primaries and on Election Day.
Floundering presidential contender John McCain is scheduled to speak at a breakfast of the Republican Jewish Coalition in New York a week from Friday.
Apparently, a $1,000 donation to the RJC buys a picture with the much-fallen front-runner…
As one Republican operative has snarkily observed to me: “Why would he waste his time raising $$$ for the RJC when he needs to raise money for himself?”
Senator Joseph Lieberman spoke today to leaders of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
“Now,” Lieberman said, “I know there are some who are probably wondering — what is a nice Independent Democrat from Connecticut doing at a Republican event like this?”
Read on for a transcript of Lieberman’s speech.