Jewish vote could swing it in Florida

By Nathalie Rothschild, January 26, 2012
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Stand and deliver: Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have fought to be seen as the biggest defender of Israel

Stand and deliver: Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have fought to be seen as the biggest defender of Israel

As Florida prepares for the Republican primary on Tuesday, will the Jewish vote prove key to the outcome?

Steven L Abrams, Palm Beach county chairman for the Newt Gingrich campaign and an elected county commissioner, said: "In a close election like this one even a couple of per cent can make a difference."

Jews make up three per cent of the population in the Sunshine State, but because they vote in such high numbers, it is estimated that they make up six to eight per cent of the turnout.

While a majority of the Jewish electorate are Democrat - Mr Abrams estimates that just 25 per cent of Florida's Jewish voters are registered Republicans - Dr Terri Fine, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida, said that Jews are likely to wield significant influence in the GOP race in Florida.

"I think the impact of Jewish voters is going to be large because they are a high-turnout group and this is an early primary," said Dr Fine.

Mr Gingrich, a former House Speaker, has surged to front-runner position after winning in South Carolina.

The upcoming Florida primary is largely seen as a competition between him and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who won in New Hampshire after narrowly losing the Iowa election to former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.

Mr Abrams believes the Jewish Republican vote is split between Mr Gingrich and Mr Romney because they are both "very pro-Israel and have conservative economic policies".

The other two candidates do not appeal to Jewish voters, Mr Abrams claimed, primarily because one, Ron Paul, is an "isolationist" and the other, Mr Santorum, "emphasises social issues".

Mr Gingrich has a chance to seize the initiative among Jewish voters at a Republican Jewish Coalition event scheduled to take place in south Florida today. It is billed as an "exclusive opportunity" to meet the former House Speaker.

While Mr Romney has vowed that Israel is the first country he would visit as president, Mr Abrams claims Mr Gingrich is the most Israel-friendly candidate in the race.

Referring to a controversial interview Mr Gingrich gave on the Jewish cable channel in December last year, Mr Abrams said: "He calls the Palestinians an invented people - you can't get a stronger defence of Israel than that."

Mr Romney and Mr Gingrich both count wealthy Jews among their backers.

Mr Romney's funders include Mel Sembler, a Florida shopping centre magnate, and Fred Zeidman, a Texas lawyer. Mr Gingrich is a long-time friend of Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate and philanthropist who reportedly donated £5 million to a pro-Gingrich "Political Action Committee".

    Last updated: 1:00pm, January 26 2012