Nearly four months after the Obama campaign held an event at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park that drew some 1,200 people, the Republicans are taking their turn at the same venue.
The July Obama program — which took place before presidential candidates were even officially nominated by their parties — featured Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, and U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.). It created a stir because no comparable Republican event had been announced when it took place.
Rabbi Lance Sussman said at the time that he had tried unsuccessfully to book a GOP event and promised one would be scheduled.
Now, on Nov. 1, just days before the election, the Republican Jewish Coalition is planning a forum featuring former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman and Ari Fleischer, who is best known for having served as President George W. Bush’s first White House press secretary. Matthew Brooks, RJC’s executive director, is also expected to speak.
The program is slated to be the final stop of RJC’s weeklong tour of so-called battleground states. (It’s a point of debate as to whether Pennsylvania is still considered a swing state for this election.)
As part of the tour, Coleman, Fleischer and Brooks are also planning to address crowds in Colorado, Nevada and Ohio.
“This will be a wide-ranging, town-hall-style discussion,” said Brooks, who added that he hopes the RJC can change some minds in the final round of the campaign.
A time for the Elkins Park forum has not yet been announced. It will be open to the whole community.
An Obama campaign staffer called the July Democratic event a “home run” and said the full parking lot — which seemed to have as many cars as on Yom Kippur — illustrated the extent to which Jews back the president.
While some have questioned since then whether a synagogue is an appropriate place for such a political event, Sussman said it is part of a congregation’s mission to keep the Jewish community informed.
“Learning about where the presidential candidates and their parties stand on U.S.-Israeli relations is of vital importance to the American Jewish community,” said Sussman. “In advance, we are grateful to the Republican Jewish Coalition for bringing a panel of distinguished Republican speakers to our synagogue.”
Robin Schatz, director of government relations for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia — which is non-partisan — hopes the RJC event also draws a sizable crowd.
“I hope they get a lot of people out there,” said Schatz, “and that they get a lot of Democrats out there, too — because it is important to be an educated voter.”