Jacob Carpertner Writes: The joke goes that several years ago, at the first Republican Jewish Coalition meeting in Florida, you could fit everyone there in a phone booth.
On a recent Sunday evening in a Boca Raton hotel ballroom, that old quip seemed quaint. There, about 500 people rallied as part of a three-state, $6-million campaign by the coalition. They jeered President Barack Obama, cheered for Israel and gathered in numbers never before seen in South Florida.
“Once upon a time, people would say ‘Republican Jewish’ and ‘black conservative’ were oxymorons and we didn’t exist,” said U.S. Rep. Allen West, the area’s congressman and a black GOP rock star. “Well I’m here to tell you that we exist and we’re not going away.”
Southern Palm Beach County’s bucolic, densely populated and highly developed cities like Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Boynton Beach will be ground zero for the political battle over Jewish voters, one that’s emotionally charged for voters and vital for both presidential candidates.
Obama and Romney already have made the pilgrimage to Palm Beach County several times, visiting high-profile donors and stopping at the massive, compound-like retirement communities such as Kings Point and Century Village, home to thousands of Jewish voters.
Jews only make up an estimated 3.3 percent of Florida’s population, but they’re highly engaged in politics and vote in droves. They’ve traditionally been as reliable as any other liberal bloc, which Obama will need to continue in air-tight Florida, and surveys suggest that will be the case in 2012.
But, judging by the Embassy Suites ballroom, there’s no doubt Republican Jews in Palm Beach County, home to more than one-third of the state’s Jewish population, are more organized, more galvanized and better funded than elections past. Many of the county’s politically conservative Jews say it reflects a shift among their religious brethren — a small one perhaps, but enough to swing a tight election — while local Democrats counter that Jews will remain reliably liberal.
“If we’re going to have a tight election like everybody says we’re going to have, we could swing the state,” said Ira Sabin, a Republican Jewish voter and retiree from Boca Raton. “It’s important for the demographic to understand what’s going on and try to make an impact.”