Forward Thinking

Santorum's Jewish Backers Switch to Romney

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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Rick Santorum

With Rick Santroum’s exit from the presidential race, Jewish supporters of the conservative candidate say that they’re ready to back his onetime rival Mitt Romney.

“We’re happy he stayed in as long as he did,” said David Shor, creator of the website Jews Pick Rick. “We’re going to unite behind Mitt Romney and hopefully we’ll be able to beat Obama in the general election.”

Always a dark horse, Santorum enjoyed a moment of plausibility as a candidate in March as the Republican field narrowed. His exit appears to make official what had long been presumed: Romney will eventually face Obama in the general election.

Though he was considered a favorite of Christian conservatives, Santorum enjoyed particular support among Orthodox Jews, as Forward reported in late March. Orthodox supporters pointed to Santorum’s focus on social issues, and on a personal life that resembled their own.

“I’m sure they’ll go to Romney,” Shor said of his fellow Orthodox Jewish Santorum supporters. “I don’t think [Obama] will be able to get the Jewish Orthodox vote.”

Other Santorum supporters were upset at the news.

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Adelson: Gingrich Is at the 'End of His Line'

By Gabrielle Birkner

Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, whose family has given a “Super PAC” backing Newt Gingrich’s candidacy some $15 million, told the Jewish Journal, of Los Angeles, that the former House Speaker is “at the end of his line.”

Reading between the lines, it seems that Adelson might be ready to throw his (very reluctant) support behind Mitt Romney, whom the Las Vegas Sands chief executive said he “has spoken to many, many, many times, as recently as when he was here in Vegas for the caucuses.” Whether or not he’ll kick down millions for the former Massachusetts governor ‘s cause may be a different story.

That’s because he said Romney is “not the bold decision-maker like Newt Gingrich is,” and said he is risk-averse, “like Obama. “

But his criticism did not preclude some form of future support, as his remarks about Rick Santorum seemed to. Adelson said unequivocally that he doesn’t want Santorum “running my country,” and that the former Pennsylvania senator was too socially conservative for his taste.

“I’m what you might call a social liberal,” the billionaire businessman said.

Though Adelson, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has long been betting on Gingrich — whom he said isn’t afraid to use words like ‘Islamo-fascism’ or ‘Islamo-terrorists’ when that’s what they are” — he acknowledged that the former House Speaker, “mathematically can’t get anywhere near his numbers, and there’s unlikely to be a brokered convention.”

(Video Below)

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Romney Gains Edge in Testy GOP Debate

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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Mitt Romney

In a Republican primary debate marked by palpable tension between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, the two leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination were united on one issue: a hard line on Iran.

They nodded agreement with one another as they laid out harsh critiques of President Obama’s policy, and promised a much tougher stance against the Islamic Republic.

It was a rare moment of comity between the men, who entered the February 22 debate neck and neck, according to some metrics, with just a week to go before key primaries in Arizona and Michigan next week.

Victories by Santorum in those contests, and particularly in Michigan, would amount to a serious blow to Romney. But observers said that Santorum was outperformed by Romney in the Mesa, Arizona debate and that the former Pennsylvania senator blew a chance to consolidate his lead.

“Rick Santorum had a chance coming into this debate to really solidify himself as the true non-Romney candidate… I think he missed that opportunity,” said Geoff Skelley, an analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “I would think this [outcome will] help Romney in Michigan and Arizona.”

Skelley noted that the reactions of the strongly pro-Romney crowd may have colored the debate’s reception.

Though Romney has won twice as many Republican delegates as Santorum, polls show a decidedly murky race. Romney is leading in Arizona, but the pair are roughly tied in Michigan. In national polls, Santorum leads Romney by a solid margin, after his sweep of three Midwestern contests earlier in the month, although the volatile race has seen several short-lived frontrunners.

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The March to AIPAC

By Nathan Guttman

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Last year’s conference

It is still more than a week away, but AIPAC’s annual policy conference is already creating a buzz in the political world. Every year organizers promise this will be the biggest pro-Israel gathering ever, but this time around the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has really outdone itself, with 13,000 participants expected to take part at the three-day parley opening on March 4. Headlining the event will be President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israel’s president Shimon Peres and the Republican presidential candidates, not to mention congressional leaders and just about anyone who has anything to do with Israel, politics and policy.

But with success come a few headaches.

First, for Republican candidates. The AIPAC conference is taking place just before Super Tuesday on March 6, when ten states hold primary elections. So what is a candidate to do? Fly back to Washington and give up valuable campaigning time in the voting states? Or perhaps skip the AIPAC conference and focus on the voters? It is a tough decision that all three leading candidates (Ron Paul does not seem to be relevant for the AIPAC crowd) need to make. Speaking at the conference can make some political sense, since it is a great venue to show off pro-Israel credentials and to deliver some punches at the Obama administration. On the other hand, staying on the ground in the states that are voting the next day could be a sounder decision, given the high stakes involved. Newt Gingrich already decided to make the trip to Washington. No word yet from Romney and Santorum.

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Mogul's $10m Newt Ploy: Stop Santorum, Aid Mitt

By J.J. Goldberg

Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas gaming billionaire, is reported to be on the verge of donating another $10 million to the pro-Newt Gingrich super-PAC Winning Our Future, which should give some new steam to Gingrich’s fading hopes of winning the Republican nomination.

But not that much. According to a Wall Street Journal report (subscribers only; check out The Hill’s useful summary here), Adelson doesn’t particularly expect Gingrich to win. He wants to keep the former House speaker going in order to split up Rick Santorum’s social conservative base and smooth the path for Mitt Romney, who Adelson considers more electable in November.

Much has been written about Adelson’s devotion to Gingrich and their shared friendship with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Less noticed is the billionaire’s deep opposition to President Obama (see here, for example). Sources who know Adelson personally say it is an unhidden and deeply felt loathing, and that the White House is keenly aware and takes it seriously.

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Santorum's Christian Hanukkah Greeting

By Nathan Guttman

Rick Santorum is back in the headlines after his sweeping victory Tuesday in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. His success is cause for renewed attention and for a better look at this interesting nugget dug up by the New York Observer’s political reporter Hunter Walker.

It is a Hanukkah card sent out by Rick Santorum’s South Carolina campaign a couple of months ago. The card shows a menorah and candles, and is decorated with a few Stars of David, but the greeting itself is rather odd. It reads: “I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.” This quote could leave Jewish supporters scratching their head since not many Jewish Americans grow up reading John 8:12 of the New Testament. The card did omit however (perhaps in consideration of the Jewish recipients) the first part of the verse which makes clear that it is Jesus speaking.

The card has been popping up in websites today with some writers trying to guess whether Santorum was secretly trying to convert his Jewish followers.

But the real question is who was this greeting card intended for? South Carolina has a lot of Jewish history but a rather small Jewish community and if national Jewish voting patterns apply to South Carolina, Republican Jews in the state are hard to come by. What would make more sense is to address these cards to the state’s large evangelical population, which, in general, holds warm feeling toward Israel and the Jewish people, and could probably better appreciate a quote of Jesus from the New Testament.

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Can Santorum Win Over South Floridians?

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Josh Nathan-Kazis
Sandra Lapomardo with Barry Leffkov, both Jewish supporters of Rick Santorum, outside a rally in Coral Springs, Fla.

Coral Springs, Fla. — It doesn’t take long to find Obama voters in the synagogues and retirement communities of Jewish south Florida. Mitt Romney has fans here, too. Newt Gingrich supporters are a little harder to come by.

And Jewish Rick Santorum supporters? In two and a half days of talking to Jews here, the Forward had found exactly none.

But then Santorum himself came to town. And though Santorum is known for his emphasis on social issues, some of the biggest applause lines at the Broward County rally on Sunday came when the candidate talked tough on Iran. While establishment Jewish Republicans have been absent from the Santorum camp, Jewish Santorum supporters at the rally seemed to represent an enthusiastic, if not overwhelmingly numerous, grassroots bunch.

“He’s the only conservative,” said Mark Kleiman, a Jewish Santorum supporter. “Romney and Gingrich are liberals.”

The Coral Springs rally came one day after a poor showing by Santorum in South Carolina’s primary, where he received just 17% of the vote. The victor of the caucuses in Iowa, Santorum now trails both Romney and Gingrich in Florida by double digits.

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Can Newt Take Surge to Jewish Vote in Florida?

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich’s big win in the South Carolina Republican primary raises the stakes even higher in Florida, the first race in which the Jewish vote will be a significant factor.

“This makes it a two-man race in Florida,” said Steven Abrams, the Gingrich campaign’s chairman for Florida’s Palm Beach County and an elected county commissioner. “There’s a lot more upside potential in Newt. We’re organized in every [Florida] county. The volunteers are very fervent.”

The latest Florida polls showed Romney leading Gingrich by between 15% and 24%. Romney holds big advantages in Florida, where his TV ads have been up for weeks and as many as a quarter of the voters have already cast ballots in early voting.

But Gingrich backers in Florida say the contest has completely changed after South Carolina.

Florida will mark the first primary state with a large number of Jewish voters. Although most of the state’s more than half a million Jews are Democrats, 2008 exit polls showed that 3% of Florida Republican primary voters were Jewish. Only a handful of South Carolina Republican primary voters are Jews.

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Perry Drops Out, Boosts Newt's New Surge

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry has dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination, throwing his support to Newt Gingrich.

Perry, who was trailing the rest of the Republican field in national and South Carolina polls, received less than 1% of the vote in the January 10 New Hampshire primary. But Perry did pull about 5% in South Carolina polls and, perhaps more importantly, was seen as dividing the social conservative vote that is steadfastly opposed to frontrunner Mitt Romney.

“I believe Newt is a conservative visionary who can transform this country,” Perry said.

Perry’s exit still leaves Republicans with two conservative alternatives to Romney: former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, and former House speaker Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich was already closing in on Romney in South Carolina in several polls before Perry’s announcement and maintains a strong lead over. South Carolina’s primary is scheduled for Saturday, January 21.

“It’s helpful to Gingrich,” said Kyle Kondik, an analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, of Perry’s decision. “Perry didn’t have much support, although I do think that in the last few debates Perry became sort of a more likeable, endearing figure, even if that didn’t translate into political support.”

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Remember Iowa? Santorum Really Won

By Forward Staff

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Rick Santorum

Remember the Iowa caucuses? Well, there’s a new winner in Des Moines.

Republican Rick Santorum claimed a delayed-reaction victory after a final count showed him ahead of frontrunner Mitt Romney by 34 votes.

The original count on the January 3 election night showed Romney on top by 8 votes. But certified results found Santorum received 29,839 votes, while Romney got 29,805 votes.

Votes from eight out of 1,774 precincts couldn’t be found.

Santorum, who inexplicably seemed to accept his razor-thin loss on election night, quickly moved to claim his late victory in the Hawkeye State.

The New York Times reported that, in a Twitter message to his supporters Thursday morning, Mr. Santorum wrote: “Thank you Iowa for the win! …. Game on!”

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No Contest for Tiny New Hampshire Jewish Vote

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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Mitt Romney

Republicans talked tough on Iran in the lead-up to today’s New Hampshire primary, but it wasn’t Jewish voters they were hoping to impress.

At the January 7 Republican presidential debate, Rick Santorum called Iran “the most pressing issue we deal with today.” Frontrunner Mitt Romney accused President Obama of failing to demonstrate to the Iranians a willingness to use military force to prevent them from building a nuclear arsenal.

Their strong words may appeal to some Jewish Republicans, but Republican Jews aren’t their main targets. That’s because there aren’t many Jews in New Hampshire at all, let alone Jewish Republicans.

And the candidates don’t seem to be going out of their way to appeal to the few Jewish voters as they campaign for the January 10 New Hampshire primaries, the first actual traditional secret ballot votes in the 2012 cycle.

“I haven’t heard of one [Republican campaign] event in New Hampshire that was specifically geared to the Jewish community,” said Jeff Fladen, the executive director of the Jewish Federation of New Hampshire. “Not one.”

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'Fred Who' Takes Shot at GOP Race

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Fred Karger

Never heard of Fred Karger? He doesn’t mind. Most people haven’t — so few, in fact, that the slogan of his unlikely Republican presidential campaign, and the title of his campaign biography, is, “Fred Who?”

As a GOP presidential candidate, Karger is an anomaly. Not only does he have zero name recognition, Karger is Jewish. Plus, he says he is the first openly gay person to ever run for president as a Republican.

“The younger people are complete social moderates and resent Rick Santorum and that type of politics,” Karger said, referring to the former Pennsylvania senator who is known for his social conservatism, particularly on issues of homosexuality.

Karger, who calls himself a Rockefeller Republican, is pro-choice, supports gay marriage, and wants American troops out of Afghanistan. His family has roots in Chicago, where his great grandfather founded the local Jewish federation. Karger lives in Laguna Beach, Calif. and is a member of a Reform synagogue there called Kol Ami.

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Eight Votes Between Them

By Gal Beckerman

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Mitt Romney

So where are we now that the decidedly low-tech process known as the Iowa caucuses is completed, all the little slips of paper have been counted and Mitt Romney was ahead by just eight votes?

I can think of three basic takeaways and they coincide with the three candidates who have emerged last night as the frontrunners in this race.

1) Mitt Romney: He still seems like Mr. Inevitable. But despite eking out the narrowest win in U.S. political history, the results actually seem to have exposed his weakness. He can’t seem to break a ceiling of around 25%, which is pretty much what he got last go around in Iowa when he didn’t have the frontrunner aura about him. What this means going past New Hampshire (a state he is sure to win) is hard yet to tell. On the face of it it reinforces the idea that the Republican Party might have a nominee that it’s base just isn’t that excited about.

2) Rick Santorum: We are going to be seeing more of the sweater vest, it seems. Seemingly out nowhere, Santorum has surged and came within a whisker of winning. He is really the biggest winner of the night, if only because expectations for him were so much lower. And he also gets to claim the mantel of the social conservative candidate, possibly soaking up the support that was spread between him, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann.

3) Ron Paul: He didn’t win the caucuses, which would have really caused Republicans to have to stop and take stock of what his popularity means for the state of the party. But he’s not going away either, nor is the problematic nature of his views. Will he continue to have enough support that the other candidates have to adopt some of his isolationism?

All of this should force Republican Jews to ask themselves three questions:

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Santorum Joins Gingrich in Not Seeing Palestinians

By Gal Beckerman

“All the people who live in the West Bank are Israelis. They are not Palestinians. There are no Palestinians.”

— Rick Santorum

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