Much has been made of how Mitt Romney has been courting evangelical-Christian support for his presidential ambitions. But Romney is also seeking friends — and, more important, money — among Jews.
MAZEL TOV!: Romney hopes to rack up campaign money with his new friends — the Jews.
The Jewish vote consistently goes to Democrats, but Republicans have found a large and increasing source of campaign funds among wealthy, conservative Jewish Americans. Romney wants some of that gelt, and he’s going after it in a big way. In October, he hired Noam Neusner, former–White House liaison to the Jewish community, as an adviser. And when Romney announced his 10 national finance co-chairs last week, one was former ambassador Mel Sembler — a mega-fundraiser from Florida and honorary chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
It’s important that Romney is getting started on this task, says Bob Naboicheck, vice-chair of United Jewish Communities and head of Jewish outreach for Bush-Cheney 2004. “The game has started early.” All of the major Republican candidates are already making calls for money, touting their support for Israel. “As far as the Jewish community, I think they are all in good standing,” he says.
Naboicheck makes clear that, for GOP candidates, “Jewish outreach” differs from outreach to other ethnic and demographic groups; that was certainly true for the Bush-Cheney campaign. “Clearly the Jewish outreach had a fundraising component. You weren’t fundraising from veterans and Native Americans,” Naboicheck says.
Rich Jewish Republicans are especially up for grabs this year, since the political demise of Rick Santorum, the potential GOP presidential candidate considered by many to have the strongest support among that crowd — rivaled, perhaps, only by Newt Gingrich, who has not yet thrown his hat into the ring.
To stand out among the remaining candidates — McCain and Giuliani, in particular — Romney has made a point of attending high-profile Israel-related events since at least 2005, and of making statements sure to get attention among conservative Jewish voters — including his refusal to offer State Police protection for Mohammad Khatami, when the former Iranian president, who has been accused of issuing anti-Semitic public statements, made a September 2006 speech at Harvard.
Romney also recently blasted the Iraq Study Group’s linkage of an Iraq solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, which the group’s report suggested underlies much of the regional violence. Many saw that as wrong-headedly blaming Israel for Sunni-Shi’ite tensions, and Romney echoed their concerns. He also got Zionist kudos for blasting the report’s recommendation that the US open direct negotiations with Iran and Syria, which Romney has called “terrorist regimes.” Romney recently told the National Review Online that it would be counter-productive to negotiate with Iran, which, he said, “sponsors Hezbollah, has nuclear ambitions, and has been clear in its intention to wipe our ally Israel off the map.”
Romney landed a big fish when St. Louis investor Sam Fox, one of the biggest Jewish GOP donors, who was recently nominated to be US ambassador to Belgium, gave $100,000 to Romney’s Iowa Commonwealth PAC in July. A few other big names in those circles gave lesser amounts to the Commonwealth PAC this past year, including Lewis Eisenberg, Marc Lipschultz, and Fred Zeidman.