Jewish voters could tip swing states Hillary Clinton’s way

Jewish voters could tip swing states Hillary Clinton’s way
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Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Trump to withdraw FEMA chief nominee: report MORE’s stumbles with Jewish voters could cost him in Florida and Pennsylvania, two battleground states where the presumptive GOP nominee needs to win if he’s going to compete with Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonQueer Marine veteran launches House bid after incumbent California Rep. Susan Davis announces retirement Poll: Trump neck and neck with top 2020 Democrats in Florida Former immigration judge fined, temporarily banned from federal service for promoting Clinton policies MORE in the fall.

Clinton currently holds statistically insignificant leads in both states, where the percentage of Jewish voters is greater than it is in most other parts of the nation.

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Clinton is ahead by 3.7 percentage points in Florida, according to the RealClearPolitics average, and leads by 2.3 points in Pennsylvania.

Republicans had been hoping to build on Mitt Romney’s better-than-expected 2012 showing among Jewish voters, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic, to reverse their fortunes with an electorate that is more liberal in presidential years.

But Trump has repeatedly found himself embroiled in controversy over remarks or tweets that his critics have condemned as anti-Semitic or offensive to Jews. Trump’s latest controversy exploded over the weekend with a tweet from his account that has been condemned by critics as anti-Semitic.

It has some political watchers forecasting a landslide among Jewish voters in favor of Clinton, which could potentially tip swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania into the Democratic column.

“I think you’re going to see an all-time high of Jews voting for Democrats in 2016,” said Ira Sheskin, a Jewish demography expert at the University of Miami.

“Trump wasn’t going to do well with Jewish voters before the tweet that went out of his account over the weekend. You look at that and you have to wonder — is he trying to piss off Jewish voters?”

Over the weekend, Trump’s account tweeted out a picture of Clinton smiling in front of a pile of money and a six-pointed star inscribed with “corrupt.” A six-pointed star, known as the Star of David, is a symbol that appears on the Israeli flag and is commonly associated with Judaism.

The image was reportedly created by white supremacists.

Trump deleted the tweet hours later and replaced the star with a circle, but Clinton and her allies have hammered him for it, calling it anti-Semitic imagery. Democrats say the tweet is part of a pattern of Trump stirring racial or religious tensions.

Trump and his aides have dismissed the controversy, first calling it a media creation and then blaming Clinton for “false attacks.” They say that the six-pointed star was a “Sheriff’s Star” or a “plain star.” 

But for Trump, it’s the latest head-scratching controversy that threatens to cut into inroads Republicans have made with an important minority group.

Earlier this year, Trump said he didn’t know who David Duke was after the former Ku Klux Klan leader urged his supporters to rally behind the candidate.

Additionally, Trump refused to condemn internet commenters who flooded a Jewish reporter’s email and social media accounts with anti-Semitic remarks after she had written a profile that was critical of Trump’s wife.

And at a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition in December, Trump made several remarks that played off well-worn Jewish stereotypes.

No one interviewed by The Hill said they believe Trump is bigoted against Jews.

They point to his close relationship with daughter Ivanka, who converted to Judaism after marrying businessman Jared Kushner. The couple are raising their children as Orthodox Jews.

But experts interviewed by The Hill say Trump’s problems with the Jewish community go beyond the flash of controversy instigated by his weekend tweet.

They say Jewish voters feel protective of other minority groups and are turned off by Trump’s racially charged rhetoric about Muslims and Mexicans.

“For many Jews, the antenna goes up when they hear Muslims or Mexicans being demonized,” said Kenneth Wald, a professor of political science and expert on American Jewish culture at the University of Florida.

“They don’t think he’s personally anti-Semitic, but they’re troubled by his xenophobia or worried that he’s tapping into racist sentiments. The tweet just adds to this, although it probably speaks more to how poorly his campaign is being run than anything.”

Trump already faced a steep climb winning over Jewish voters.

A Pew survey released earlier this year found that 64 percent of Jewish voters claim to be Democrats.

Democratic presidential candidates routinely outperform that figure in presidential years, taking between 74 percent and 79 percent of the Jewish vote between 2000 and 2008.

But in 2012, President Obama got only 64 percent of the Jewish vote, compared to 30 percent for Romney.

Republicans entered 2016 hoping to build on that.

“We’ve increased our share of the vote in recent elections, and I expect we’ll do relatively well, if not very well, this year as well, considering the Iran deal and Hillary Clinton’s record as secretary of State,” said Republican Jewish Coalition spokesman Mark McNulty. 

If Trump is going to exhibit stronger-than-expected strength among Jewish voters, it will be because they trust him more on the Iran nuclear deal. The billionaire has made opposition to the deal one of the cornerstones of his campaign, while Clinton once supported it but has backed away.

And many Jewish voters have long viewed Republicans as the stronger party when it comes to supporting Israel in their conflict with Palestinians.

But even some who support Trump over Clinton on those issues are troubled by his shortcomings elsewhere.

“I fully support him on Israel and on national security,” said Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a Republican. “But I can’t give him my full support because when he talks about banning Muslims, that’s not in line with American values. I’ve challenged him to speak respectfully of minority groups and to run a campaign that’s more in line with American values.”

While Jews make up only about 2 percent of the U.S. population, they’re an important constituency because they’re more likely to vote than most other groups.

The Jewish vote is particularly pronounced in Florida, where Jews make up only about 3.4 percent of the overall population but between 5 and 6 percent of the voting population.

Jews make up about 2.3 percent of the population in Pennsylvania, but they’re similarly engaged in the community, as evidenced by Philadelphia claiming the greatest number of synagogues in the country per capita.

“It’s an important constituency and one Trump really needs to win over, not just because the elections could be close enough in Pennsylvania and Florida that every vote will count, but as a signal that he can broaden his appeal,” said Nick Clark, the professor of political science at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. “Each passing week that looks a little more difficult for him.”