Campaign works to mobilize Sunshine State’s Jews, expected to play central role in Tuesday polling as Democratic front-runner looks to clinch nomination

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a rally at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, March 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a rally at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, March 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)


WASHINGTON — Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton’s plans to bounce back from a reeling Michigan defeat includes heavy campaigning among Florida’s large Jewish community, as voters in five states head to the polls for what are being called make-or-break primaries.

Heavy hitters on the Clinton team have spent the last several days campaigning among Florida’s Jews, a crucial demographic in both the primaries and the general elections.

Over a half-million Jews live in the south Floridian metropolis that includes the cities of Miami and Fort Lauderdale, an area that ranks sixth in the world among metropolitan areas for the size of its Jewish population.

It is not just the size of the community, but the special position of Florida in presidential politics, that makes mobilizing the Jewish community so appealing. Florida is one of the most important swing states in the general election and where George W. Bush narrowly squeaked out a win in 2000, partially thanks to infamous butterfly ballots which led to out-sized support for Patrick Buchanan in heavily Jewish Palm Beach.

“Florida right now is critical,” said Rep. Steve Israel. “It is not just an important Democratic primary state. It’s a swing state in the presidential elections, so having a ground game here and developing infrastructure has benefits beyond Tuesday.”

Israel, who served until 2015 as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, represents a swing district in New York, but spent the days leading up to the primary campaigning in Florida. On Monday, he addressed Jewish students at Florida Atlantic University.

Israel said that he has not been campaigning in the other states voting Tuesday – even Ohio, Illinois and Missouri, which contain sizable Jewish communities.

“The bottom line is that American Jewish voters are an essential step in the path to the presidency,” he added. “[Florida] is one of the most important steps in the path because of the activism of the community. It has high voter turnout and the involvement of the community in politics and in elections.”

There are 219 delegates up for grabs in the Sunshine State’s Democratic primary. Because Florida’s Democratic delegates are awarded proportionally rather than in a winner-takes-all format, it is not just important for the Clinton camp to win, but to defeat opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders by the largest margin possible.

“The Florida Jewish community is incredibly important in the primary and will be that important in the general election as well,” said Boca Raton’s Democratic congressional representative, Rep. Ted Deutch, another Clinton surrogate. Deutch, who has been campaigning for Clinton in south Florida’s Jewish communities, noted that local Jewish turnout far exceeds that of the general community.

In the last presidential election, he said, general turnout was approximately 55 percent, while turnout exceeded 80 percent among Jews. Deutch said that the discrepancy was even more pronounced in the primaries. “As a result, the Jewish community in Florida will play a significant role in deciding first who the Democratic nominee is going to be, and when we move on to November, the Jewish community is going to be having a role in deciding in the largest swing state in America who the president of the United States is going to be.”

Deutch believes that much of that vote will go to Clinton, asserting that he was “confident that Secretary Clinton will receive a very large majority of the Jewish community down here.”

Part of the reason why, said Rep. Lois Frankel, who is — like Deutch — a Jewish member of Florida’s Congressional delegation, is that many Floridian voters are retirees from New York who knew Clinton’s record as a two-term senator from that state. Beyond their concerns about Israel’s security and anti-Semitism both domestic and abroad, Frankel said that Florida’s Jewish Democrats were focused on many of the same issues as other Democrats, including the economy, jobs, and the long-term viability of Social Security and Medicare — key topics in a state with a massive retiree population.

Deutch said that his outreach on behalf of Clinton was based on reiterating her record.

“What I do is mostly reminding people of where she stands,” Deutch explained. “In the Jewish community, reminding them where she stands on strengthening the US-Israel relationship and being there for the State of Israel, and on domestic issues, reminding them how much is at stake in this election and why she’s so well-qualified to follow President Obama and build on his domestic successes.”

Deutch said that while he has encountered Jewish Democrats who “appreciated” Democratic contender Senator Bernie Sanders’ candor in discussing his Jewish identity during a nationally aired debate, Sanders’ Jewishness has not been a motivating factor for would-be Clinton supporters to switch their allegiances.

“People immediately turned back to how excited they are that a strong pro-Israel, female candidate has a chance to make history this year,” he said. “People can certainly take pride in the fact that there is a Jewish candidate for president who has received delegates and who has run a terrific campaign and still work hard to ensure we elect Hillary Clinton,” Deutch suggested.

As reported by The Times of Israel