Any antonym of “pleasant” can easily describe what feels like an eternity of this election cycle.
So with less than a week away until Election Day — and probably until some Americans start researching Canadian real estate — there’s still time to consider the issues and make an informed decision on the critical topics on the ballot.
Starting at the top: Hillary vs. the Donald.
Bill Wanger, Pennsylvania and South Jersey chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition, believes most voters have already made a tentative decision of how they’re going to vote for the presidency.
“Because these two candidates are so unpopular, those tentative decisions are subject to changes at the edges,” he noted. “Those who are undecided are those who are Independent or those who really were inclined to either vote for a third party or maybe not vote. So that for a lot of people who had sort of held open their decision, the events leading up to the election may have some impact.”
This cycle has been hotly contested, and not just for the presidency. The New York Times predicts Hillary Clinton will be the winner in a close race in the swing state of Pennsylvania. But regarding the state’s Senate race, the latest poll showed Democratic candidate Katie McGinty with a 12-point lead over Republican opponent Sen. Pat Toomey in a race that has, until now, been neck and neck.
Wanger believes Jewish Pennsylvanians will vote for Toomey.
“Pat Toomey has been one of the most pro-Israel senators we’ve had in a decade,” Wanger argued. “He has earned the vote of Pennsylvanians who care about a strong Jewish Israel able to negotiate its own terms of its treaties and relations with its neighbors.
“While [Jewish voters] are split pretty evenly on the top of the ticket, I haven’t heard anybody who hasn’t been in favor of Pat Toomey.”
Speaking of voters in suburban Philadelphia, Wanger said, “those voters tend to be very comfortable with splitting their vote among people they know and trust. Whoever they vote for for president doesn’t necessarily mean they vote a straight ballot.”
As for the race for Pennsylvania attorney general, Wanger said he is personally friendly with both candidates, Democrat Josh Shapiro and Republican John Rafferty. He believes Rafferty is the only candidate with true trial experience in the courtroom, which makes his personal vote an easy decision, politics aside.
“Do I hear people talking about Mr. [Otto] Voit? No,” he said of the candidate running for state treasurer against Democrat Joe Torsella, among others. “I do hear people talking about the attorney general race, especially among lawyers. For Jewish voters, certainly they want to see experienced candidates and people who have come up the ranks doing public service.”
But at “the highest level,” Wanger said, Jews are no different than any other voters. They care about the economy, jobs, an impartial judiciary. But Israel is the tipping point.
“For Republican Jews, Israel is much higher on the list of issues. The Democratic Party has leaned further and further left since the 2000 election to the point where rather than being pro-Israel, it has become pro-left, and the left doesn’t like Israel,” he said.
Wanger emphasized the importance of voting, especially for millennials.
“This will be an election that establishes the majority on the Supreme Court certainly for the next 25 years. If you’re 25 or 30, it’s going to be a good part of your personal lifetime,” he said.
“I always tell people that Donald Trump was probably my 15th or 16th choice among the Republicans, but Hillary Clinton’s probably my 7,225th choice. So it’s an easy choice for me,” he laughed. “But I can’t tell people how to vote for president. It’s too personal, it’s too significant. But I can tell them that I’ve known Pat Toomey for about almost 12 years, and he’s somebody that I’ve known and respect and certainly advocate for.”
Marcel Groen, chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, believes Jewish voters are more likely to support Clinton, according to recent polling margins.
“This election seems like it’s been dragged on forever. Almost everybody made up their minds some time ago,” he said.
“Jewish voters are likely to vote primarily for Democrats. Certainly I think Katie [McGinty] will carry the Jewish vote. Josh [Shapiro] will do extremely well among Jewish voters, in large part because he’s Jewish. Not only that, he’s been active in Jewish causes and goes to Jewish schools. Not only is he Jewish, but he identifies, and that’s important and meaningful.”
Groen added that it’s important to vote for the state House and Senate and not get too caught up with the presidential election.
“Unfortunately, while most of the incumbents on both sides are likely to be reelected, there are some exceptions to that. Generally speaking, certainly in Jewish areas like Lower Merion, Cheltenham, Abington, Upper Dublin, for the most part all of the state House and state Senate members are Democrats. The reason we do well in Jewish areas is because Jewish voters identify with [Democratic] issues.”
Groen noted a significant referendum on the ballot for the judicial retirement age, citing whether to make judges retire at 70, the current age, or at 75.
He said the legislature’s language of the referendum is misleading and he expects a lot of people won’t see it or won’t vote on it.
“All of these offices matter. Who is your legislature matters, probably almost as much as the president because the legislature controls an awful lot of the stuff that is meaningful on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “We do ourselves a disservice if we don’t vote for candidates in each office that is being challenged.”
Jill Zipin, one of the founders of Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania, said many Jews have crossed party lines in recent months.
“In this election cycle, unlike any other, we’ve seen elements of anti-Semitism unlike anything we’ve seen in the United States before. Even among Independents and Republicans, there’s been a real repudiation of Donald Trump in a way that I haven’t seen before,” Zipin said.
“[Trump] uses neo-Nazi imagery, words, which we as Jews understand the ramifications of. In the Jewish community, I believe, a majority of Jews of every political stripe are turning away from Donald Trump because Trumpism, as it’s been called, and what is the standard Republican Party, appear to be two different things,” she said.
From a Democratic perspective, Zipin said there are several social issues that are important for Jews. One is gun violence.
Zipin said that McGinty and Shapiro, who both support common-sense gun reform and background checks, have raised the subject.
“Their opponents tend to be weaker on that issue,” she added.
Another issue for Jewish voters is the right to choose when it comes to abortion; McGinty and Shapiro are both pro-choice.
Another local race featuring a Jewish candidate is in Pennsylvania’s 8th Congressional District, where Republican Brian Fitzpatrick is running against Democrat Steve Santarsiero.
Zipin noted that Santarsiero is Jewish and has supported anti-BDS legislation, which resonates with the Jewish community. He also supports gun control and improving the environment.
When it comes to Clinton, McGinty and Shapiro, “their focus has always been on family,” Zipin said, adding that all three are fierce advocates for Israel. “Their focus has been a dedication to values that reflect our Jewish values, and all of them have long records of social justice.”
But no matter your political affiliation or what your deeply personal political Facebook posts may say, President Barack Obama said it best: “Don’t boo. Vote.”
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