Undecided voters weigh Israel, domestic issues
Parties waging battle over small percentage who have yet to choose
With less than six weeks before Election Day, polls are suggesting that as little as 8 percent of the electorate remains undecided.
But with the margin between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney razor-thin, both parties are expected to focus their final sprint on the voters who are still up for grabs.
That, at least, is the strategy of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which is targeting $5 million worth of TV ads in swing-state Jewish communities in south Florida, Cleveland, Las Vegas, and Philadelphia.
Although the RJC plans no such ads in New Jersey — a state expected to go solidly for Obama — their challenge will be to convince undecided voters like Sanford Hollander, a Newton lawyer who said he is balancing his dislike of the president’s Middle East policies with distaste for Romney’s domestic agenda.
“Obama does not use the bully pulpit in any way to support Israel. He doesn’t see the biblical narrative of support from Israel that the Jews espouse,” said Hollander, who is active in Jewish causes and is past president of what is now the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
“If it was just foreign policy, I would vote against Obama in a minute,” he told NJJN in a Sept. 20 phone interview. “But I am a child of the Depression. I grew up in a left-wing atmosphere. I was involved in the civil rights movement, and I believe that government has a significant function in the well-being of people.”
Hollander said he is “greatly concerned” about what will happen to the Affordable Care Act and other domestic programs under a Romney administration.
And yet he questions Obama’s commitment to Israel, especially in its efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“Israel cannot attack Iran without the United States’ commitment to resupply them,” he said. “There is not enough military aid for the United States to help Israel fight a war of attrition. Obama has not made that commitment,” he said.
Like her husband, Roslyn Hollander said she “may not make up my mind until the last minute.”
“I am not sure whether Romney would do more for Israel than Obama,” she said.
Rabbi Azriel Fellner, a Livingston resident and former religious leader at Temple Beth Shalom there, also considers himself undecided.
“Obama’s foreign policy is feckless,” said Fellner, who normally votes Democratic. “He has no clear idea of where he wants to be in terms of others in the world, especially in the Middle East. I don’t think he has made his position clear to the rest of the world and to Iran that a nuclear Iran would not be tolerable. He is still playing with the idea that diplomacy somehow might find a solution, which I think is just ridiculous.”
But when he looks at Romney, Fellner said, he also has concerns.
“His social policies and those of the extreme conservative part of the Republican Party are not in touch with what America really needs to do to provide for those people who cannot provide for themselves and have a government of compassion,” said Fellner. “Ultimately I will have to make a decision as to whether or not Obama’s progressive attitude toward America and its social policies outweighs my serious concern about his inability to deal with foreign policy.”
Although it isn’t planning an ad campaign like the RJC’s, the National Jewish Democratic Council is also reaching out to the small number of undecideds.
The NJDC will be “presenting undecided Jewish voters with the facts about President Obama’s exceptionally strong record of support for Israel along with his domestic record that reflects the Jewish value of tikun olam,” said its president and CEO, David A. Harris, in an e-mail. “This stands in stark contrast to Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s dangerous domestic proposals, in addition to their reckless and hollow foreign policy posturing.
“Republicans are investing millions of dollars to smear — and often lie about — the President’s Israel record, all to cover up Romney’s awful domestic agenda.”
The RJC ads, meanwhile, will include testimonials from Michael Goldstein, an East Brunswick Democrat who said he’s voting for Romney.
“This ad highlights the ‘buyer’s remorse’ felt by many in the Jewish community who voted for Obama four years ago, but are now disillusioned with his economic policies and his policies toward Israel,” said RJC executive director Matt Brooks on his organization’s website.
Finding such voters, however, may be a challenge, at least according to a new poll of Florida Jewish voters by the American Jewish Committee. The poll found that Obama leads Romney by a 69-25 percentage-point margin, with 5 percent undecided — less than the 74 percent of the Jewish vote Obama got in 2008, but not the wide swing Republicans had been predicting.
Jonathan Tobin, the senior on-line editor of the conservative Jewish magazine Commentary, said that’s bad news for the Jewish GOP.
“If these results hold up, it is not enough of a shift to be considered large enough to help swing the state if Florida turns out to be close,” Tobin wrote on Sept. 21. “The drop in Obama’s support is explained by the answers to poll questions that show the positions of the majority of Jewish voters on topics like Israel and Iran to be significantly different from those of the administration.
“But those issues don’t appear to be enough to convince enough Jewish Democrats and independents to forsake the president in favor of Romney.”