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.
Several others wrote large checks to the Romney-chaired Republican Governors Association, including Sheldon Adelson and Dawn Arnall. Eric Tanenblatt, a Bush “Ranger” (meaning he raised at least $200,000 for George W. Bush’s re-election campaign), has signed on as Romney’s Georgia finance chair. And Massachusetts businessman and Jewish philanthropist Theodore Cutler also has been a big Romney supporter. The mitzvah list is sure to grow in the coming months.
Rush to judgment
Last Thursday, while Massachusetts Democrats were celebrating the inauguration of Deval Patrick, the Massachusetts Republican Party was supposed to elect the person who would lead the opposition to the new governor and the Democrat-dominated legislature. Although eight candidates were running for party chair, reports indicated that the election, scheduled that evening, would be a coronation of former congressman Peter Torkildsen.
Turns out, the election wasn’t even held.
The January 4 election was postponed to the 16th, after complaints surfaced that not all committee members received the requisite 10-day notification. Normally that sort of technicality gets brushed aside. But some committee members, upset by the way outgoing chair Darrell Crate seemed to be rushing the vote, used it to force a postponement and buy extra time.
Crate has already gotten grief from committee members for seeming to endorse Torkildsen in a November interview with Jon Keller. But underlying that annoyance is concern that Torkildsen might be too closely aligned with Crate, who they associate with the Romney-Healey forces that have led the party since 2002 — and from whom many want a clean break. “The vast majority of state-committee members are not supportive of Romney for anything,” says Peter Lukes, committee member from Worcester.
“Committee members are split between those who want to continue the way things have been going, and those who don’t,” says Shari Worthington, a committee member who says she is undecided.