The 78 percent of the Jewish vote that Barack Obama received yesterday was higher than even the most optimistic Democrats had dreamed. The only person in Washington who says he expected it to be higher was the head of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
In a not very convincing attempt to spin some very unfavorable numbers, RJC executive director Matt Brooks told reporters on a Wednesday afternoon conference call that in a "Democratic tsunmai" like Tuesday, he was simply happy to "hold on to gains" Republican Jews had made in previous years. He added that one would expect to see "much, much bigger gains" for Democrats in the Jewish vote. He didn’t specify how big, but he noted that while the Latino vote was 13 points higher for Obama than John Kerry four years ago and the Catholic and African-American vote seven points higher, the Jewish vote rose just four points from Kerry’s 74 percent in 2006.
Of course, what Brooks left out is that the Latino and Catholic vote had much more room to grow — giving Kerry just 53 and 47 percent in 2004, more than 20 percentage points lower than the 2004 Democratic Jewish vote. As for the African-American vote, it is hardly a good tool for comparison in a year with the first African-American major party nominee for president.
Brooks also noted that Obama didn’t match Gore’s Jewish vote total in 2000 — but he was only one point behind Gore’s 79, and Gore had the first Jewish vice presidential nominee running on his ticket.
Brooks’s argument isn’t completely off-base. It’s true that with Obama doing better in the overall popular vote than John Kerry did in 2004, it would logically follow that he would also improve somewhat in the Jewish vote. But what Brooks couldn’t adequately explain was why Obama rose more than 15 points from the 60 percent of the vote he was receiving from Jews in polling this summer — at the same time the RJC was running an extensive negative advertising campaign against Obama.
The economic crisis and disgruntled Hillary Clinton voters "coming home" to the Democratic Party are the best explanations for the Obama surge, Brooks said, denying that there was any evidence — other than some anecdotal reports — that McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his vice presidential nominee was a factor in Jews turning so decisively towards Obama.
"We were swimming against such a strong tide, there was nothing we could have done, there was nothing John McCain could have done" differently that could have changed the direction of the Jewish vote, Brooks said.
As for the advertising campaign — which featured weeks of full-page advertisements in Jewish newspapers throughout the country, a million-dollar television ad buy in four swing states and a robo-call the day before the election, among other efforts — Brooks said the group’s efforts were "overwhelmed" by not only the Obama campaign’s on-the-ground Jewish outreach efforts with surrogates in key states such as Florida and Ohio, but the "third-party groups" supporting Obama such as the National Jewish Democratic Council, the Jewish Council for Education and Research and Rabbis for Obama.
But he took credit for setting the agenda in the campaign, making Democrats to fight for the Jewish vote and forcing Obama to make "promises" to the pro-Israel community that the group hopes to see him keep.
Although the RJC has called Obama "naive," "weak," "dangerous" and "reckless," and said, that a "naive and weak foreign policy has resulted in tragic outcomes for the Jewish people," Brooks said he hoped to work with the new president on issues of importance to the Jewish community and would urge its members to "give him a chance."
Here’s the RJC’s full press release congratulating Obama and giving their side of the story:
Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) Executive Director Matt Brooks issued the following statement today:
"The Republican Jewish Coalition congratulates President-elect Barack Obama on his hard-fought victory. Throughout this election, the Republican Jewish Coalition raised critical policy issues in the Jewish community. The RJC is proud of the role we played in facilitating this important debate. In a very challenging and unprecedented political year, the GOP maintained the inroads it has made in the Jewish community.
"Compared to John Kerry’s results four years ago, Obama increased his level of support among all voters. Yet Obama’s gains among Jewish voters were smaller than among other key demographic groups.
"Among Catholic voters, African-American voters, and Latino voters, Obama’s numbers increased from a range of 7 to 13 points compared to John Kerry’s numbers four years ago. Yet his increase among Jewish voters was only 4 points ahead of Kerry’s numbers in 2004. Nor did Obama’s increase exceed the support that Democrats achieved in 1992, 1996 and 2000. This data clearly shows that there are still nagging doubts in the Jewish community about how President-elect Obama will lead on important issues affecting the Jewish community and our national security.
"Because of these doubts, and the unprecedented efforts of the Republican Jewish Coalition to foster a national debate about issues of critical importance to the Jewish community, many Democratic entities such as the Obama for President campaign, the National Jewish Democratic Council, J-Street and the Jewish Council for Education and Research, spent massive amounts of resources to reach the Jewish community – a constituency where they normally spend few resources on outreach efforts.
"The Republican Jewish Coalition’s aggressive efforts to inform the Jewish community ensured a vigorous debate about key policy issues. The Democrats were forced to address the concerns the Jewish community has with the policies of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. While we are disappointed with the overall outcome of the election, the Republican Jewish Coalition is pleased that the GOP maintained the recent inroads, at the national level, it has made in the Jewish community.
"It is our hope that President-elect Obama will support policies that strengthen America and Israel. As we move forward, the RJC will maintain its role as an important voice engaging in substantive discourse on the issues of critical importance to the Jewish community."