It seems that billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s name comes up in this presidential election as often as Mitt Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan—this time Adelson is being identified as the leader of a network of wealthy Jewish Republicans who are spending millions of dollars trying to peel Jewish votes away from President Obama.
The Republican Jewish Coalition has spent $6.3 million—four times higher than the $1.4 million it spent in 2008, according to a report on Bloomberg News. In addition, a charitable group that appears to be connected to one established by billionaire Ron Lauder has been registering U.S. voters living in Israel with the goal of convincing them to vote for Mitt Romney by highlighting Obama’s disagreements with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The idea is that they will give Romney a chance to win crucial states like Ohio and Florida, with their sizable Jewish populations, if they can peel off significant numbers for Romney.
“Florida and Ohio are two crucial states in everybody’s calculation, and Jews have a significant presence in both of those states,” Jonathan D. Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, told Bloomberg. “In an election that everybody expects to be very close, suddenly 20,000 Jewish votes may actually be very important.”
Adelson has been practically a member of Romney’s campaign staff. When Romney traveled to Israel over the summer and stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy because of comments he made, Adelson was right there by his side. Romney wandered into dangerous territory during his visit to Israel when he mentioned the”power of culture,” an extremely loaded phrase in that part of the world, where every utterance can set off tensions and accusations of bias.
“And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things,” Romney said, citing an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances and the “hand of providence.”
Adelson, the chief executive officer of Las Vegas Sands Corp., with his wife has given $20 million to a pro-Romney super-political action committee, FEC records show. He also owns a pro-Netanyahu newspaper in Israel. Romney and Netanyahu are extremely close friends from working together at Boston Consulting Group in the 1970s after they got out of business school.
Obama won 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, according to exit polls.
While the Jewish Republicans have emphasized Obama’s uncomfortable relationship with Netanyahu, some Jews are saying that this characterization is not true.
Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, told CNN in July that the Obama administration “is doing, in regard to our security, more than anything that I can remember in the past.” And the pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said in September that Obama and congressional leaders “have deepened America’s support for Israel in difficult times.”
Jewish voters don’t consider Israel their No. 1 concern and are closer to the Democratic position on abortion rights, government help for the poor and other domestic issues, said David Harris, president of the National Jewish Democratic Council.
Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, who is Jewish, said he is “deeply troubled” about “inaccurate and sometimes inflammatory attacks” against “a proven friend of Israel.”
The council also distributed a video of actress-singer Barbra Streisand talking about Israel, abortion, gay rights and Medicaid. “Mitt Romney does not share our values,” she concludes. “I know Barack Obama does.”