There’s an old principle in warfare, “get there first with the most.” It’s also a good principle in politics, and was on full display during the battle for the Jewish vote in this year’s presidential campaign.
Republicans may have had the Sheldon Adelsons and their millions but the Democrats had something that proved more valuable, something they called the Hub. The key to the Hub’s successful media operation and its value to the campaign was the vast amount of information at hand and the ability to use it to respond rapidly and reliably to breaking developments. It played skillfully on offense and defense.
The Hub was run out of the offices of Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications, a Washington-based PR firm with a long history in Democratic campaigns as well as the Jewish world.
Republicans spent at least $15 million and reportedly a great deal more in their bid for Jewish votes, primarily through the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Emergency Committee for Israel. Their theme was simple: Gevalt. Barack Obama is an unfaithful and unreliable friend of Israel. They targeted the battleground states, particularly Florida and Ohio, where the election was expected to be close and decisive, and the Jewish vote could determine outcome.
The Hub was more intensely focused on the Jewish community than the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee, and went into full gear in early July when Aaron Keyak, a veteran Jewish Democratic activist and congressional staffer, was put in charge. He had earlier worked for the National Jewish Democratic Council, which was loosely affiliated with the Hub.
It proved to be a prolific producer of direct mail, television spots, videos, letters, op-eds and websites. It also advised candidates on getting out their message and dealing with the media.
In the closing weeks of the campaign the Hub drafted and placed op-eds by prominent figures in the Jewish and political world; created a website linking Mitt Romney to investments in Iran; targeted emailings to more than 150,000 Jews in key states; arranged media interviews for administration and other figures, and was all over the social media.
While Republicans had Clint Eastwood talking to a chair, the Hub produced and placed a video with Barbra Streisand.
The Hub raised and spent just under $400,000, a small fraction of what the Republicans were spending, but it had two very strong advantages: a conviction that Obama had a very strong record of support for Israel that Jews would recognize through the smoke of the opposition’s derisive rhetoric and the ability to reach Jewish voters on an extensive range of topics of concern to them.
The GOP focused primarily on Israel because it had few issues with broad appeal to Jewish voters. Its message was variations on Mitt Romney’s repeated accusation that Obama had tossed Israel under the bus.
By they time they were done, the bus had run over the Romney campaign. Republican Jewish operatives have been predicting a sea change in Jewish voting and a mass exodus away from the Democrats for decades without success, but this year, they said, it was finally going to happen. But when all the votes were counted, Obama beat Romney 70-30, and Republicans still haven’t made it back to where they were with George H.W. Bush in 1988.
Both parties had expected Jews could be the swing vote in the battleground states, and that’s where they focused their fire. The Hub used a micro-targeting strategy, Keyak said, taking the message directly to Jews where they live. They had the added advantage of broader appeal to Jewish voters than Israel and Iran policy and argued that Obama, not Romney, “stands where the Jewish community stands.”
Steve Rabinowitz, the PR maven who created the Hub, said, “Rapid response and opposition research allowed for lightning fast response to breaking news and current events and enabled a hand in almost every serious news item that had to do with President Obama, Israel, and/or the Jewish vote.”
Ultimately, Jews across the country continued to vote overwhelmingly for Democrats and usually ranked Israel below the top five on their priority lists. That says less about the importance Israel holds for them than the fact they consider both parties pro-Israel. The Republican failure to ignite the Jewish electorate by making Israel a partisan wedge issue with their fear and smear campaign did further damage to the GOP brand by showing that when it comes to appealing for Jewish votes it is a one-trick pony and that trick is no show-stopper.
By the end of the day, the day being November 6, Jewish voters actually made little difference in those hard-fought battleground states. Obama won by a margin larger than the number of Jewish voters in every one of those states where Republicans and Democrats went head-to-head for their support.
But that doesn’t diminish the importance of the Hub’s importance. It reinforced the Jewish community’s affinity for the Democratic Party’s agenda and again showed both parties what it takes to win that loyalty. That’s money in the bank for the future and it’s much more valuable than Adelson’s millions. The Republicans understand this, but they are hobbled by a powerful conservative base of tea partiers and evangelicals whose agenda is anathema to the vast majority of Jewish voters.