Each time the networks declared a state for President Barack Obama, the cheers grew steadily louder at the Montgomery County Democratic Committee’s Election Night party. Then, a couple of minutes after 11 p.m., everyone stood up and the large hall was filled with a noise so boisterous and sustained that it could only mean one thing.
The race — a slog of a campaign that lasted for 18 long months — was over earlier than anyone had anticipated.
Sherry Marcus, a 59-year-old volunteer who boasted of having met Obama four times, seemed to be jumping higher than any elected officials or campaign volunteers inside the United Food and Commercial Workers building in Plymouth Meeting.
“This is more profound than the last one. We broke the ceiling last time. This time we took it to the sky,” said a hoarse Marcus, who sported an Obama button in Hebrew characters and hoop earings that bobbed with her ecstatic movements.
“It’s an amazing thing for the Jewish people,” she added. “I’ve spent a lot of time in this campaign defending Obama’s record on Israel. There has never been a president who has devoted more time, resources, finances and backbone to Israel.”
A couple of miles away at a Republican committee party in East Norriton, held at a sports bar, the scene couldn’t have been more different. After the networks declared Pennsylvania for the president, it seemed as if the several dozen people in the room had taken a collective punch in the gut. An hour before the race was declared over, a few volunteers were already talking of drinking their sorrows away.
After munching on flaming wings, William Wanger, the Republican Jewish Coalition area president, shook his head at the loss of the Keystone State. “I guess they were concentrating on other states. I think in hindsight, they really could have had Pennsylvania,” he said.
In the end, though, winning the Keystone State wouldn’t have deliverered the White House to Mitt Romney and the GOP.
An early look at the big picture shows that Obama won 69 percent of the Jewish vote nationally, according to a CNN poll. While still an overwhelming majority, if that number stands, it will constitute either a five or nine point drop from four years ago, since the actual 2008 number is still somewhat in dispute.
By the stroke of midnight, Jewish Democrats were already claiming victory, beating back a ferocious Republican effort to erode Jewish support for Obama largely on his policies regarding Israel.
Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro pointed to the returns in his county — 57 percent to 42 percent favoring the president — as evidence that the effort to siphon Jewish votes didn’t work.
“Based on the results we are seeing in Montgomery County, the Jewish vote again went overwhelmingly for Barack Obama,” he said. “I know there are some who tried to distort his record, but our president was and will continue to be a good friend to Israel.”
Bill Epstein, one of the key activists with Obama Jewish Outreach Pa., said their work to educate voters effectively countered the Republicans’ attempt to persuade Jews that many had “buyer’s remorse” after voting for Obama four years ago. Epstein’s group was holding a post-Election Day party in Bala Cynwyd.
Republicans, meanwhile, argued that the drop in support represents something significant. But still, a question is now raised: Will the GOP need to adopt a new strategy to reach out to Jews and other centerist, independent voters?
Michael Adler, a 39-year-old lawyer and Republican committee member in Lower Merion and Narberth, wasn’t ready to start thinking ahead to the next election. He said the drop in Jewish support for the president was a consolation prize of sorts on a tough night.
“It’s a continued trend that we see. Unfortunately it didn’t move the needle for us in any way,” he said.
In Center City, at an election return party sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Renaissance Group and the Collaborative, the crowd overwhelmingly favored Obama — but there were some dissenters.
Elana Sasson, a graphic designer in her mid-20s who has been living in Israel for the last eight years, stood near a temporary bar inside Tavern on Broad, holding a whiskey on the rocks.
She is hoping to return to Philadelphia, where she grew up, but that plan has been stalled by her inability to find a job.
“I’m disappointed in people,” said Sasson, who voted for Romney based on his approach to the economy and foreign policy. “I don’t understand what they saw in his last four years to say that he deserves a second term. His entire campaign was to make you afraid of Romney.”
Across the room, Lizzie Burrows and Robert Ilya Etin sat over a plate of chips and spinach artichoke dip. They had met only minutes earlier, but both were pleased at Obama’s victory and comfortably shared the appetizer.
Etin served as an Army intelligence analyst in Iraq during the Bush era. He said recent Republican administrations have failed to understand the military’s capabilities and its “very real shortcomings.” He did not expect that to change with Romney, had he been elected.
“Had Romney won, by virtue of his stated ideology, he would have been forced to be much more aggressive and confrontational,” Etin said. “To Republicans, it seems unpatriotic to acknowledge our military’s limitations.”
A few blocks away at an Obama campaign Election Night party at the Warwick Hotel, volunteers danced, cheered and hugged each other as it became clear that the president would be re-elected.
University City resident Yaniv Tomer, a 38-year-old biology researcher for the University of Pennsylvania, said he was nervous at the beginning of the night even though everything seemed to be going according to pundits' predictions. The Israeli has been volunteering for Democratic campaigns since before he obtained U.S. citizenship.
Tomer said he felt the Democratic party had a better handle on the tough love Israel needs from the U.S. On the other hand, he said, it's hard to imagine any American leader with enough sway to really influence the peace process.
This campaign wasn't quite as intense as four years ago when electing a black president seemed “beyond the realm of possibility,” said Evan Levy, a 26-year-old salesman for a green technology company.
Still, the Center City resident said, nobody took the win for granted. He trailed off, leaning over to see what caused the most recent eruption of applause. By that point, Obama was just a few electoral votes away from the win. As far as Levy is concerned, the president "represents all the best things we have in this country."
Reflecting on Romney’s loss the morning after, Adler, the Republican, said, “We are waking up to no change in the White House and no change in the Senate. The nation thinks collectively that we are heading in the right direction. I certainly hope so.”
“It is time we all work together,” he added. “I’m always optimistic about the country we live in. We end an election with a concession speech. We don’t end an election with riots in the streets.”
Jewish Exponent staff writers Eric Berger and Deborah Hirsch contributed to this report.