Democrats are ramping up their outreach to Jewish voters after Mitt Romney publicly courted the Jewish community with a much-hyped trip to Israel and a new TV ad echoing his support for the country.
This week, Democrats are launching an initiative to use Jewish elected officials as surrogates to the Jewish community. Led by Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, the nation’s only Jewish governor, the Democratic National Committee is enlisting Jewish politicians to reach out to Jewish voters on everything from Israel to the economy, with a particular emphasis on battleground states.
“Obviously it’s a significant concentration of Jewish voters in some of the battleground states,” Markell told TPM.
Jewish officials have been volunteering their services to the campaign, a Democratic source told TPM, and the elected leaders program is geared toward systematizing those outreach efforts and making them as efficacious as possible. Ira Forman, the DNC’s Jewish outreach director, enlisted Markell a few months ago for the effort, Markell said. The surrogates are armed with talking points for Jewish voters, beginning with discussing President Obama’s record as an ally to Israel and the threat posed by Iran, the Democratic source said.
“Both [Israeli Defense Minister Ehud] Barak and [Israeli President] Shimon Peres said within the last several months that the relationship between Israel and the United States on security issues is stronger than it’s ever been,” Markell said. “And I think he’s gotten the message across that the relationship between the United States and Israel is still just incredibly important and I think people get that.”
From there, surrogates will segue to a host of domestic issues like the economy.
“Like other Americans, they’re primarily focused on the economy,” Markel said. Jewish voters, a traditionally Democratic voting bloc, “would be particularly supportive of the president’s approach focusing on the middle class as opposed to the top-down approach taken by Romney.”
Jewish leaders are being pressed to drive home the stark differences between Obama and Romney on the economy, taxes, education and reproductive rights — a key part of Obama’s pitch to voters.
The initiative is one piece of Democrats’ ongoing effort to retain some of its strongest 2008 reporters. Obama won 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, but current support levels are lower. A Gallup daily tracking poll between June 1 and July 26 found 68 percent of Jewish voters support Obama, and 25 percent support Romney.
The Obama campaign has set up a number of local Jewish Community Leadership Councils with the goal of recruiting grassroots volunteers to talk up Obama in Jewish communities. The campaign has teams set up in crucial swing areas like northern Virginia, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Denver, New York and throughout Florida.
The Obama campaign expects some Jewish leaders from blue regions, like Markell, will help out in battleground states, the Democratic source said. Markell, who traveled to Pennsylvania for the campaign last week, expects to make trips to Florida and other battlegrounds as part of the initiative.
Obama is building on his 2008 plan to reach out to Jewish voters, in which he set up Jewish Community Leadership Committees and asked Jewish political leaders to introduce him to the Jewish community.
The Romney campaign, meanwhile, is launching an aggressive attempt to peel away a small but potentially critical number of Jewish voters by putting Israel front and center — a departure for a campaign whose main pitch to virtually all demographics is pegged to the faltering economy. But Markell said he doubted Romney’s efforts will pan out.
“My sense when I’m out there or others are out there, talking about the message and the difference in approach on the economy, and for that matter the strength of the president’s approach specifically with Israel,” Markell said, “it’s a very compelling argument to make.”
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.