Supporters of NORPAC, the pro-Israel political action committee, raised several hundred thousand dollars on Sept. 26 for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Although the total amount of money raised had not been tabulated by press time, NORPAC president Ben Chouake estimated that the Republican presidential candidate received “a couple of hundred thousand dollars” at two separate fund-raisers in the Manhattan law office of Weil, Gotshal & Manges.
Speaking before some 200 donors after a small “roundtable” event for major contributors, Romney’s key focus was on economic issues.
Both meetings were closed to news coverage.
“He talked a lot about the economy because that is in everybody’s mind, and how the approach to building up the economy has to be different,” Chouake told NJ Jewish News the morning after the meeting. “You have to build up the private sector to improve the economy.”
When the discussion turned to Israel, Chouake said, Romney was critical of President Barack Obama’s approach toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration.
“When people see daylight between friends it encourages enemies to take advantage of that,” Chouake said. “Romney feels the moral equivalency between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was not the correct approach, that America is not a fair-weather friend to Israel, not an impartial mediator.”
‘Extremely smart guy’
The candidate did not criticize his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination. “The people there were already on board with him,” said Chouake, even as he noted, “There are a lot of good candidates on the Republican side.”
According to the NORPAC leader, Romney presented himself as, “I am what I am, and I am not going to take different positions in the primaries than I am in the general election. I think my candidacy is optimum for the party. I think I am an attractive candidate not only to the Republican Party but also to voters in the general election as well. If I can win the Republican nomination I can be the most attractive candidate for everyone.”
But would Romney be the Republican most attractive to Jewish voters, especially those who may have supported Obama in 2008 but seem less inclined to do so now?
“I think in general, yes,” said Chouake. “You are talking to people for whom one issue predominates their agenda. Jews want someone who is going to be good on U.S.-Israel relations…. I think at the end of the day, Romney happens to be an extremely smart guy economically. You want someone who is smart and competent in the White House. It is a massive enterprise. You want to have somebody who is an entrepreneurial genius.”
NORPAC describes itself as a nonpartisan political action committee. Over the past few months, it has hosted events for U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.).
Chouake said, “A lot of our members were involved with an unofficial Rick Perry event” a week prior to Romney’s appearance, indicating there is some support for the Texas governor among Jewish voters in the tri-state area. The NORPAC leader said he was not present at that event.
“I think on Israel, they are both very solid,” he added, saying he is unconcerned with both Romney’s Mormonism and Perry’s fundamentalist Protestant beliefs.
A candidate “can have personal beliefs as a religious person,” said Chouake. “I happen to like the fact that somebody has some faith in God, so I am OK with that.”
Despite his own status as a Republican and his personal support of GOP candidate John McCain for president in 2008, Chouake said, “I haven’t given up on Obama. I haven’t given up on anyone. In a presidential race we try to develop as many relationships as we can.”
Choauke said NORPAC members have already hosted several benefits for the president’s reelection campaign.
“Obama has done a lot of stuff militarily with Israel that people don’t know about,” said Chouake. “His poll numbers are not as bad as people suppose, given the state of the economy. There are a lot of people who like him a lot.”