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Romney, Thune make pitch at RJC retreat

At the Republican Jewish Coalition’s winter leadership retreat in Las Vegas, it was the absence of certain likely candidates for president that had the crowd most excited.

While names like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann generate enthusiasm at some other conservative gatherings, their absence over the weekend here had the Jewish crowd giddy that ahead of the 2012 race, the Republican Party may be retreating from the divisive hyper-conservatives who have frustrated Jewish attraction to the party in recent years.

At this GOP gathering the heroes were probable presidential hopefuls who are likelier to sway Jews from their traditional Democratic home and toward Republican candidates with positions on issues like the economy and foreign policy.

Matt Brooks, RJC’s executive director, told a questioner that the social issues that have driven Jews away from the Republican Party in the past — abortion, gay rights, church-state separation — were hardly registering now.

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From left, potential GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney chats with Mel Sembler and Sheldon Adelson, major backers of the Republican Jewish Coalition, at the RJC’s winter leadership conference at the Adelson-owned Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas on April 2. Ron Kampeas

“Social issues get a large role in campaigns when there’s not a lot of other issues at the forefront,” he said. Instead, the issues now are America’s economic health and job loss, Brooks said. “That’s what will drive the narrative,” he said.

The economy — and foreign policy, particularly Israel — certainly were the issues driving the narrative at the RJC event.

The two likely candidates to address the audience in the open forum, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, wove both the economy and foreign policy into their challenges to President Obama, whom they and just about everyone else pledged to make a one-term president. Notably, neither man mentioned social issues.

Both lambasted Obama for what they said was the distance he had established between the United States and Israel, breaking with a tradition of decades of closeness.

Romney said Obama’s attempt to appear evenhanded in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations led him to “castigate Israel while having nothing to say about thousands of rockets being launched into Israel.”

The Obama administration has, in fact, condemned Hamas rocket attacks on Israel, although its tense exchanges with Netanyahu’s government over settlement-building have received much greater attention in the Jewish community.

Thune said the administration’s emphasis on settlements made it appear that they were the reason peace talks were not advancing while ignoring Arab recalcitrance and the Iranian nuclear threat.

“America’s ally is now and always will be the State of Israel,” he said. “I think the Obama administration sometimes forgets that fundamental fact.”

Thune has said he is not running, but his supporters will not count him out and his appearance at this event and others like it fuels speculation that he may return to the race. Dan Lederman, a Jewish state senator from South Dakota, joked that he had already reserved the VP spot on the Thune ticket.

Romney seemed transformed from his failed 2008 bid for the GOP nomination, when he was faulted for appearing scripted and uncertain in his opinions. He barely consulted a single sheet of notes, and spoke in detail not only on his strengths — health care and budget management — but about the threats facing Israel from Iran and about the peace process.

He subtly cast what he undoubtedly will play as his strength — business and executive experience — into every topic. Obama, he said, does not understand negotiations, a lack that led him to concede too much at the outset to the Russians in negotiating a missile drawdown in Europe.

“He could have gotten a commitment on their part, ‘We will not veto crippling sanctions on Iran,’” a reference to the Republican critique that U.N. sanctions approved last year on Iran were not sufficiently far-reaching. Instead, Romney said, Obama made it clear from the outset that he was willing to end missile defense programs in Poland and the Czech Republic, a key Russian demand.

“The consequence of not understanding negotiations has been extraordinarily difficult,” Romney said.

Romney was relaxed and jokey. Insisting that the tax cuts he would advocate targeted the middle class, he said, “I’m not looking for ways to make rich people richer” — and then added, glancing over at Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate and RJC mainstay sitting in the front row, “Sorry, Sheldon.”

He also had a practiced answer on health care, facing a vulnerability that has dogged him until now: The plan he championed in Massachusetts, which reduced emergency room-generated costs by mandating health care, was a model for the plan passed last year by Obama and which Republicans want to repeal.

“Romneycare” was good for Massachusetts, he said, but as president he would not impose it on all 50 states. Later he added, to laughter, addressing Obama: If the president truly modeled his plan on Romney’s, “Why didn’t you call me?”

One questioner asked Romney if, like Donald Trump — another putative GOP candidate — he would fight “scrappy” and not behave as a “gentleman” as he had done in previous campaigns. The reference appeared to be to Trump’s adoption of arguments questioning Obama’s citizenship credentials. Romney was adamant he would not stoop to “innuendo” in a campaign.

The most telling moment in Romney’s appearance was when he called his wife, Ann, to the stage.

“Mitt and I can appreciate coming from another heritage,” she said, referring to their Mormon background. That “another” was a sign of the difficulties that minorities have in assimilating into a party that is still perceived as predominantly white and Christian.

The perception that “Republican and Jewish” is an oxymoron continues to dog the RJC, despite its successes, including upping the Jewish Republican vote from barely 20 percent in 2008 to more than 30 percent in November’s midterms. Much was made of a show of hands of first-timers at the confab — about a third of the room — and speaker after speaker urged them to bring friends and family.

The event was held at Adelson’s palatial Venetian casino hotel, much of it taking place on Shabbat. Observant Jews who attended rushed from services, prayer shawls over their shoulders to events during the day Saturday, dodging oblivious, skimpily dressed cocktail waitresses attending to the crowds.

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Ari Fleischer comes to New Jersey

Republican Jewish Coalition to launch northern New Jersey chapter

Heather RobinsonLocal
Published: 03 June 2011

The June 12 event featuring former White House Pres Secretary Ari Fleischer and radio talk show host Steve Malzberg (WOR, 710 AM) is part of a broader effort on the part of the Republican Jewish Coalition to ramp up outreach in New Jersey approaching 2012, according to Greg Menken, New York executive director and spokesman for the RJC.

The RJC is planning to launch a northern New Jersey chapter “in coming months,” Menken told The Jewish Standard.

“We will be hosting events designed to highlight the differences between Republicans and Democrats on Israel, the economy, and more,” he said.

The RJC is encouraged by growing numbers of Jewish voters pulling the lever for Republicans, Menken said, pointing to Jewish voter turnout for Governor Chris Christie, who attracted 38 percent of the Jewish vote in 2009.

The RJC has maintained a Central New Jersey chapter for more than a year, as well as a Pennsylvania/Southern New Jersey office.

For information about the Republican Jewish Coalition, the soon-to-be-launched northern New Jersey chapter, or the event, “A Conversation with Ari Fleischer and Steve Malzberg,” visit www.rjchq.org or call 212-922-0839.

 
 

GOP takes aim at North Jersey

Republican Jewish Coalition uses candidate forum to launch local vote bid

Republican strategists are taking direct aim at a traditional Democratic Jewish stronghold — Northern New Jersey – with Israel and a sagging economy acting as their weapons of choice to woo voters into the GOP camp in 2012. Bergen County is home to approximately 100,000 Jews.

The full-court press kicks off on Tuesday, Sept. 20, as the recently formed Northern New Jersey chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) hosts a candidates’ forum at the Jewish Center of Teaneck. The program is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m.

Anecdotal evidence shows that the Jewish vote in some Northern New Jersey communities, such as Teaneck, Englewood and Fair Lawn, has been trending to the right in recent years. Local GOP party activists see that expanding in 2012. They say that growing disappointment in President Obama by Jewish voters is the catalyst that will generate more Republicans votes in local contests as well in the national election.

The new Republican Jewish Coalition chapter is aggressively courting Jewish voters. Leaders of the RJC say they perceive widespread disenchantment with what they say is the president’s lack of support for Israel and his weak performance on the economy. They hope to use the forum to demonstrate how their local candidates offer a better alternative.

Local reaction was mixed.

Dr. Deane Penn of Englewood, who labels himself an independent, welcomes the advent of the local RJC chapter because, he said, “it would bring more open discussion of the issues confronting Israel, thus leading to a better understanding of this complex problem of defining borders for a peace treaty.”

He does not necessarily agree that a national standard-bearer’s views on Israel would translate into votes on a local level, however. “I have supported and hosted Democrats and Republicans,” Penn said, “and I would support the best local, state or national candidate, without reference to their party affiliation.”

Not so, said Rabbi Mark Karasick of Teaneck. He believes that “coattails work both ways.” Jewish voters, he said, need to “react with their brains” in the 2012 election and focus on how the president “embarrassed Israel”: repeatedly over the last three years. “You can’t just vote Democratic,” he said.

“I think there is a perfect opportunity for the Republican Party to make strides in this area,” agreed Gary Glaser of Oradell. “The disenchantment with the Democrats I think is overwhelming. People were sold a bill of goods by a real smooth-talking Democrat who really knows nothing about real life and just thinks the government should control everyone by spending money that is not there.”

Glaser also agreed that there will be local fallout. “The local Democratic party just follows what the national party wants them to do,” he said. “There are too many ‘old-time politicians.’ There needs to be new people in politics, the kind of people who listen to their voter base and just have common sense.”

On the other hand, Jay Nadel of Demarest did not believe an expanded RJC presence would make much of a difference in the area. “My prediction is that Obama will receive a majority of the Jewish vote,” he said. As for what the impact of the national Jewish vote would be on local races, Nadel quoted former House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, Jr., who quipped, “all politics is local.”

“As we saw in what just took place in Brooklyn, anything can happen on a local basis,” Nadel added. He was referring to the loss of a Democratic House seat in a special election held in New York on Tuesday.

The discussion at the Jewish Center of Teaneck will feature candidates for State Senate and Assembly, including Robert Lebovics and Keith Jensen, District 37 candidates for State Senate and Assembly respectively, and Sara Rosengarten, who is running for State Assembly in District 36. All three are facing incumbent Democrats. (See the box on this page for a rundown of the two districts and who currently represents them.)

The evening will be moderated by Heather Robinson, assistant editor of The Jewish Standard, who is currently on leave. It will focus on education, property taxes, and the economy.

The time has come for the Jewish community to support Republican candidates, said Greg Menken, regional director of the RJC. “More and more people are feeling that President Obama has failed Israel,” Menken told The Jewish Standard. “As a result, the 2012 election will be the most important election that we’ve had in a long time. We’re trying to attack Northern New Jersey so that we can make sure people are paying attention and are informed of the issues.”

Jensen, running in District 37, said the time is ripe for North Jersey residents to begin voting Republican. “People are fed up with high property taxes and inequities in school funding,” he said. “People want less regulation, more jobs and above all lower taxes.”

Jensen said the state school funding formula now in place is not working. It punishes students and taxpayers in Bergen County, he said, “and throws billions of dollars on poor-performing school districts that have shown little sign of progress.”

Lebovics, a physician who is challenging State Senator Loretta Weinberg, calls himself a “radical centrist who believes in fiscal responsibility, public safety, education reform, government transparency and is socially moderate.”

District 37, he said, does not receive its fair share of its own tax dollars for its public schools. “Our tax dollars leave Bergen County to pay for bloated inefficient schools statewide,” he said, “while our property taxes have to be raised year after year to make up for the shortfall.”

Lebovics believes that all school alternatives should be explored including charter schools and vouchers.

District 36 State Assembly candidate Rosengarten said New Jersey residents are at a breaking point. “They know that the status quo is financially unsustainable, taxes are too high, and they are tired of government waste,” she said in an interview. “Democrats are content with the same old policies of no growth economics, and voters know that the current policies must be changed.”

As she sees it, the hot issues for North Jersey Jews are the ever increasing taxes and the high costs of education, said Rosengarten. “Many Jewish families send their children to private school, yet they pay property taxes for public education which affords them little to no benefit,” she said. “The state needs real solutions, such as lowering the cap on property tax increases, and instituting a school voucher program. With these measures, we will make New Jersey more affordable and ensure the quality education that our children deserve.”

While the Republicans claimed to have the answers, Larry Stempler, a New Jersey Democratic activist and a board member of the National Jewish Democratic Council, said he did not believe voters would be swayed by the GOP rhetoric.

“As long as Republicans keep on supporting candidates like [Texas Gov. Rick] Perry and [Rep. Michelle] Bachman, Obama will still have the support of the majority of the Jewish community,” said Stempler.

“Jews will still vote overwhelmingly with Obama and with the Democrats in general as they recognize [that] the social policies advanced comport with their issues and that Israel has a very strong supporter in this administration.”

Regarding support for Israel, he cited such things as joint military operations; the Obama administration’s announced veto in the U.N. Security Council of the expected Palestinian statehood resolution; numerous statements made by Israel’s U.S. ambassador, Michael Oren; and last weekend’s remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu publicly thanking President Obama for U.S. help in evacuating Israeli diplomats from Cairo.

No matter a voter’s plans, however, it is essential to hear out both sides, said moderator Robinson. “It’s good to hear ideas across the political spectrum. People have been down on their elected officials lately, but I think that in a lot of ways people get the leaders they deserve. You can’t complain if you didn’t educate yourself about the issues.”

The event is free of charge. Refreshments will be served.

 
 
 
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