WASHINGTON, D.C. — Earlier this year, a group of Jewish Democratic operatives set up shop in Washington’s tony Woodley Park neighborhood, hoping to use their small office as a skirmish line in an unexpectedly brutal war with Republicans over the small, but potentially crucial number undecided Jewish voters.
Armed with a half a million dollars, the previously low-profile set-up — known as The Hub — is hoping their efforts to use a novel micro-targeting strategy to bolster Obama’s standing in the Jewish community could mean the difference for Barack Obama tonight.
Although the GOP has for years sought to make inroads in the Jewish community, particularly on the issue of Israel. But this cycle, it was different, said Aaron Keyak, a longtime Jewish Democratic activists and one of the organizers of the Hub.
GOP megadonors like Sheldon Adelson were pouring millions into the Republican campaign against Obama, targeting much of it directly at Jewish voters, while the Democratic machine was doing little to ramp up its own efforts.
"Not so long before the Hub was founded, there was little going on inside the Obama re-election campaign in Chicago or at the Democratic National Committee in Washington aimed at the Jewish American community. Despite caring, knowledgeable Jews at or near the top of both institutions -- and the White House -- there was very little official staff or resources solely dedicated to this key constituency,” Keyak said.
“Meanwhile, Republicans and political conservatives promised to spend tens of millions of dollars, with fully staffed organizations, on a community that they perceived as less than rock solid for a president it supported three to one only three years earlier," he added.
At the same time, Mitt Romney was making it clear that Israel and Iran were going to be the primary focus of his foreign policy pitch. Romney travelled to Israel ‘— which Obama had not done as president — took a hardline stance on Iran’s nuclear program and latched onto the conservative theory of an “apology tour” to the middle east to question Obama’s commitment to Isreal.
The disparity worried Matt Dorf and Steve Rabinowitz, two veterans of Democratic communications campaigns, who decided to found The Hub. Because Republicans were “fully funded, fully staffed and full throated” by then and had a huge cash advantage on Democrats, The Hub opted to pursue a far narrower approach to keeping Jewish voters at home in the Democratic party or bringing over the few remaining undecideds, Keyak said.
The group sought to “talk to Jews where they live,” pushing out micro-targeted videos, like their successful Barbara Streisand video, as well as targeting issues beyond Israel and Iran to make the case that Obama, and not Romney, “stands where the Jewish community stands.”
“The American Jewish community is overwhelmingly in support of a woman’s right to chose, same-sex marriage” and other social and economic issues, he noted.
They also looked to take the fight directly to Romney on Iran and Israel, developing sites like www.romneyandiran.com while using sites like www.jewishvotertest.com to “help guide them to the decision of who’ll they’ll support tonight.”
Whether their efforts will bear fruit is still not clear: Jews make up a relatively small part of the American electorate, and the number of undecideds is very narrow. And Romney’s Israel and Iran attacks clearly had an impact on the community if they are anything like the broader population.
John Stanton is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New Orleans. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
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