Mitt Romney is receiving support from Jewish voters not seen for a Republican candidate in 24 years. Although a sizable majority of Jewish Americans will still cast their ballots for Barack Obama, the erosion of Obama’s solid foundation in the Jewish community is a political phenomenon worthy of commentary. It is also one that can make a striking difference in an electoral race polling within sampling error.
Nowhere is this phenomenon as visible as in Chicago’s heavily Jewish and Democratic northern suburbs. There, the Jewish embrace of the Republicans has reached such significant numbers that the Daily Herald, Chicago’s largest and most prestigious suburban newspaper, ran the topic as its lead story in its Sunday edition (July 8): “More suburban Jews turning to the Republican Party.”
Beneath the headline ran a picture of Arie Friedman, a prominent pediatrician and Republican candidate for the Illinois state Senate in the 29th district. Friedman — like Jewish candidate Jonathan Greenberg, an ordained rabbi who is running for the state house in the newly formed 57th district — is a fiscal conservative who is strong on national defense and liberal on social issues.
But while both candidates are Jewish in districts with large numbers of Jewish voters, they are not running on Jewish issues. They are running against a runaway fiscal policy that has ruined a great state. Illinois’ bloated pension system, mountain of debt, and soaring taxes are as much local issues as they are national. What propels Jews toward Romney also propels them toward the local Republican candidates. The hope of the local candidates is that Democratic identifiers who vote for Romney will continue to vote for Republicans at the local level and for the same reasons.
When pundits speak of Jews deserting Obama, his tenuous policies on Israel come to mind. Yet Paul Miller, a political consultant to both the Greenberg and Friedman campaigns who has long been involved in Illinois politics (disclosure: he is a relative), sees things differently. To Miller, Jews are first and foremost experiencing politics as would any American citizen, and Illinois rivals California for the state in the most dire economic condition.
The state has an $85 billion hole in its pension system that is unfunded and for which there will be no coming source of revenue. The obligation is three times the size of last year’s revenue receipts. Moreover, the Illinois Constitution requires that, once earned, retirement benefits can neither be diminished nor abolished.