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EXCLUSIVE WEB CONTENT: Mishpacha Live at the Political Conventions

Binyomin Rose

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

DAY 3: Wednesday, August 29

Alabama’s Jewish Heart
While I never would have expected to surface in the middle of the Alabama delegation while covering a Republican Jewish Coalition confab for members of Congress, it soon became clear that support for Israel runs as bottomless in the Deep South as it does anywhere else in the United States.
This manifested itself when a lone protestor broke the diplomatic protocol that pervaded the get-together by interrupting a speaker and shouting how Israel had to stop oppressing the Palestinians. A security guard quickly ushered the protestor out the same back door where delegates from the heart of Dixie were waiting to board buses to take them to the next-to-last session of the 2012 Republican National Convention. A friendly gentleman who introduced himself as Boyd assured me they could show their Southern hospitality by finding me a seat on their bus.
Being the only person in line who didn’t look like he was from Alabama, delegates were curious as to my reaction to the pro-Palestinian protest. My explanation, based on personal observation, that Arab citizens of Israel, as well as Arab residents of the West Bank have a good life compared to their comrades who live in many other Middle East countries seemed to strike a responsive chord.
“There’s a group in California that contributed about $2 million to the SPLC [Southern Poverty Law Center] that solicits funds to fight racial discrimination in Alabama. That’s ridiculous,” said delegate Clara Price from Montgomery, who suggested the West Coast donor might be out of touch with today’s Alabama. “You can’t know anything about a place unless you live there,” she added.
Barbecued Ribs and Romney 

Reno Nevada is far from Alabama, both in mentality and the pace of life, but it is home to Ben Farahi, a Jewish Republican, who has arrived at his own brand of outreach to woo voters to the Romney camp.
An owner of apartment buildings, Farahi says that he hosts barbecues for his tenants to draw them, their friends, and family, and of course to chew the political fat along with the barbecued beef. Farahi, who is also in the gaming business and is a close friend of billionaire casino mogul, publisher, and GOP donor Sheldon Adelson is as direct as Adelson himself when it comes to expressing his partisan opinion. “We have a disease infecting America and we have the next two months to try and get rid of it.”
Once I finally got seated on the bus, I found myself next to a native New Yorker, Patrick Brennan, who served as commissioner of agriculture in the administration of former governor George Pataki. Brennan grew up on a family farm and still works there once a week to make sure his brother can get a day off.
While he had to ponder a bit to recall the term chalav Yisrael, he said that as part of his job, he learned many of the laws of kashrus and worked closely with rabbis who trained him in the terminology and to ensure he would be able to help enforce state laws that dealt with kashrus issues.
But the night belonged to Paul Ryan, who took center stage to accept his party’s vice presidential nomination. Ryan’s delivery was level and relaxed, having obviously worked on toning down some of his mannerisms that often seemed to give his speech a clipped and edgy tone.
He spoke mainly about the economy. In keeping with the GOP’s theme of “putting Obama on trial,” he condemned the president for cutting the average American out of the nation’s economic recovery plans. Instead of focusing on job creation, Ryan charged the president launched “a divisive, all or nothing attempt to put the government in charge of health care.”
“Obamacare is 2,000 pages of taxes, fees, mandates, and fines that have no place in a free country.”
“So here’s the question. Without a change in leadership, why would the next four years be any different from the last four years?” asked Ryan.
Ryan offered little by way of particulars as to how he and Mitt Romney would do better, other than to say their administration was committed to adding 12 million new jobs in the next four years.
They hope they can start by adding the first two new ones on Election Day.

DAY 2: Tuesday, August 28



Mitt Romney has finally sewn up the Republican nomination for president — getting the nod he has been seeking since his first campaign that fell short in 2007.

It’s taken him five years to earn it. His hardest work is ahead over the next 70 days leading up to November’s Election Day.

On the convention floor as the roll call formally nominating Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan was underway, the watchword was cautious optimism.

“Unlike a lot of the pundits, I do believe that Illinois can go for Romney even though Obama is leading there now,” said Dr. Michael Menis, an Illinois delegate and chairman of the Chicago chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “The latest poll I saw is that Romney is actually leading in Illinois outside of Chicago. It’s a state with a large Jewish vote and a shift in the Jewish vote could tip the scale toward Romney.”

One state that Romney is unlikely to win under any circumstances is California, where Obama holds a double-digit lead. Delegate Sally Zelikovsky, a self-described Jewish Republican Tea Party activist, says that while she is somewhat of an anomaly in her overwhelmingly Democratic state, she does not find it demoralizing or discouraging to be pulling for the underdog.

“We’re doing other things to get Mitt Romney elected, such as walking door-to-door in precincts in Nevada, which is a swing state,” said Zelikovsky.


How He Can Do It 

For Romney to win in November, he will have to pull enough support away from Obama’s 2008 voters, mainly among women and minorities, and also from among more liberal Jewish voters disenchanted with Obama’s policies on Israel or his performance on the economy.

Earlier in the day, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley stopped by the media center to speak informally with reporters. Gov. Haley is the first woman and the first person of Indian descent to hold high office in her state. I asked her why the consensus in America seems to be that the Democrats are the better for party for women.

“I think it’s interesting that the only people that are saying the Democrats are a better party for women are Democrats, and they think if they say it enough women will believe it, and that’s probably about as offensive as it gets,” said Gov. Haley. “You can say something 20 times. It doesn’t make us suddenly start to believe it. Republicans will win women over when they educate and talk about what they’ve done and what they’re going to do.”

So what have the Republicans done policy-wise that should sway women voters, I asked?

“Look at the difference between the two candidates,” said Gov. Haley. “You have a Governor Romney who has made businesses successful. You have a President Obama who is telling them [business owners] they didn’t build it. You’ve got a President Obama who actually saw our credit rating fall and has raised the deficit larger than it’s ever been. Gov. Romney went to a Democratic state [Massachusetts] and cut taxes, improved education, and oh by the way, balanced the budget. You’ve got a president Obama who hasn’t been able to do any of that. So the results speak for themselves. When women see and hear that and put it side by side, this is a no-brainer.”

Can the Republicans put their message across?

Mike DuHaime, a consultant for the Republican National Committee in Washington and a former consultant to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in his successful campaign in 2009, says the Republicans have learned the lesson Obama taught them in 2008, mainly his successful use of Internet and social networks to build a strong base of support.

“Obama was very well organized, but in addition to the technology, there was enthusiasm that President Obama brought last time that frankly isn’t there this time,” said DuHaime. “It’s not that people dislike the president, but there’s disappointment in how he’s governed. So I see the enthusiasm advantage this time on the Republican side.”

Ashley Bell, a commissioner in Hall County Georgia, who just returned from a visit to Israel, and spoke at an AIPAC session for state and county elected officials, says he is hoping that Republicans can both woo more African-American voters away from Obama.

“My Christian values begin in Jerusalem but there also needs to be a strong political connection between America and Israel,” said Bell. “The most destabilizing thing that can happen in the Middle East is to have an America that appears to be out of lockstep with Israel. Our community is very much against being involved in wars that we think are not worthy of American blood but at the same time, to avoid those, and to keep peace, a strong Israel is a key element.”

The highlight of Wednesday’s convention agenda will be Paul Ryan’s speech accepting the vice-presidential nomination.




DAY ONE: Monday, August 27

Obama “On Trial” in Tampa

“We’re here to prosecute Barack Obama and at the same time, tell the Mitt Romney story.”

That’s how Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, summed up the agenda of the party’s national convention when he stopped by the press room at the Tampa Bay Convention Center an hour after gaveling the convention to both an open, and an immediate adjournment due to threatening weather from Hurricane Isaac.

Isaac skirtedTampaand is now training its eye onNew Orleans, but the GOP has come out storming.

At the two-minute opening session, played before mainly empty seats at the Tampa Bay Forum, Priebus flicked on an electronic debt clock displaying America’s national debt of $15.986 trillion, and counting, plus a second debt clock tabulating the anticipated increase in hock during the course of the convention. The number is expected to top $16 trillion before the Republicans leaveTampaThursday. Democrats begin their convention to re-nominate President Obama next Tuesday inCharlotte,North Carolina.

“I’d like to know how Obama is going to dig us out of this ditch he’s gotten us into,” said Priebus. “When you’re not who you said you are, and you’re not real, you’ve got a serious problem.”

Republicans are sounding somewhat more confident as the convention opened, and have closed ranks around their nominee, Mitt Romney, after a bitter and divisive primary campaign.

The latest polls show the presidential race tightening even further, with Romney closing the gap with Obama to just 1% point in key swing states such as Ohio, Virginia, and Florida.

Attacking Obama on the growing size of the national debt has potential to backfire on the Republicans as Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, increased the debt more than Obama has, but Republicans feel they have another trump card to play.

“I’m very concerned the Obama administration is weakening our defense,” said Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, in a conversation with Mishpacha in the lobby of the Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk Hotel. “I’m very concerned that with the proposed cutbacks in the military, the wrong message is being sent to our enemies. They believe we don’t have resolve, but I believe we do have the resolve and we will elect a new president this year.”


Hugs and Determination

Romney has not won over everyone in the party. Daniel Watts, a delegate fromOklahomawho was pledged to presidential candidate Ron Paul, said that Paul delegates are likely to stick with their man when the official nominating roll call is held at Tuesday’s session.

“Romney’s another Obama. He’s for [national] health care too. Plus Paul would letIsraeldo what they want. He said that ifIsraelfeels they have to attackIran, they should be able to do so without getting the okay fromAmerica.”

Those who know Romney personally, however, remain among his staunchest supporters.

Steven Howitt is one. Recruited personally by Romney to run for state office in 2004, Howitt lost that campaign, despite Romney holding a fundraiser for him. He finally won a seat in 2010.

“Even though I lost the first time, having run was an experience that was quite memorable, but winning is so much better,” said Howitt.

Howitt, a Jewish Republican, is somewhat of an anomaly in a liberal state where only 33 of the state’s 160 representatives are Republican.

Howitt and Romney were reunited last week at a town meeting inNew Hampshire’s St. Anselm College, where Howitt stood on a perimeter line to greet Romney.

“I said hello to him and he gave me a big hug,” said Howitt. “For some people that seems very un-Romney, but he’s really a very warm individual, he’s very family-oriented and very pro-Israel, which is very important to me.”

So why do some people consider Romney cold? Howitt offered a personal insight. “He is very focused and that’s why people sometimes view as him being reserved. But he understands that time is a constraint and he tries to get as much done in whatever time he has, wherever he is.”

Romney is expected to be formally nominated at tomorrow’s session, and Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, director of theStrausCenterfor Torah and Western Thought atYeshivaUniversityand associate rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun inManhattan, has been invited to deliver the invocation.



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