More than 550 people came to a Republican Jewish Coalition town hall event at Gratz College Nov. 1 as part of a final GOP push in Pennsylvania.
Republican Jewish Coalition member Sally Hurwitz owns a vacation home on Long Beach Island and isn't sure if, in the wake of the devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy, the home can be salvaged.
But waiting for three well-known Jewish Republicans to take the stage at a Nov. 1 pre-election town hall meeting held at Gratz College, the Upper Dublin resident had this to say: She'd rather "lose her house than have former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney lose the election."
The anti-Obama message from the podium was no less stark. Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman — who sits on the RJC's national board — told the roughly 500 people in attendance that "the world is held in the balance" by the outcome of the election.
The Melrose Park program was the final stop in a five-day, nine-city RJC tour, which also featured Ari Fleischer, President George W. Bush's first press secretary, and Matthew Brooks, RJC's national director. The event — a Republican closing argument of sorts for Jewish voters — came as Pennsylvania appeared to be back in the national conversation.
With polls tightening, Republican groups, as well as the Romney campaign, have once again decided to spend money in the state in the last days leading up to Election Day on Nov. 6 — after seemingly abandoning Pennsylvania sometime after Labor Day. In fact, Romney himself was scheduled to appear Sunday in Bucks County and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan was expected to stop in Harrisburg. Last week, the campaign brought in former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, to speak at the National Museum of American Jewish History.
"I know Pennsylvania is going to put Mitt Romney over the top," Brooks told the audience, drawing cheers.
Fleischer said that if Romney can manage to win 30 percent of the Jewish vote locally, he'll win Pennsylvania. Four years ago, John McCain captured 22 percent of the Jewish vote nationally.
Though national surveys of Jewish voters have consistently shown an overwhelmingly lead for Obama, Jewish Republicans recently got at least one dose of good news.
According to I Vote Israel, an organization devoted to getting ex-pat Americans in the Jewish state to cast absentee ballots, 85 percent of Americans living in Israel cast their ballot for Romney. The group said 80,000 Americans living in Israel would be voting in the election. The survey sample size was 1,500.
Back home, the Gratz auditorium was completely packed and the overwhelming majority of those in attendance appeared to be Romney supporters.
The program had been set to take place down Old York Road at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel. But the event had to be moved on account of Sandy. Even though the synagogue had its power back, it still lacked heat.
Back in July, more than 1,000 people — including perhaps 50 or 100 Republicans — turned out for an Obama event at K.I. that featured U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Montgomery County and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fl.), chair of the Democratic National Committee.
The synagogue took some criticism for scheduling a Democratic event without having a Republican program lined up, but Rabbi Lance Sussman said that it was always his intention to give national figures from both parties the opportunity to make their case to the synagogue and the wider Jewish community.
"It is a point of civic pride for me that our two programs were the only such open public events for the Jewish community during this critical time in our country's existence," Sussman wrote in an email after the Gratz program. "Although sometimes the road is bumpy, participation in our democracy is a right and a blessing for which we should be thankful and vigilant."
The speakers reiterated the arguments against the president that the RJC has been making throughout the campaign. Both Coleman and Fleischer said that the president's stimulus package and health care law have sent the country into greater debt while doing little to revitalize the economy or improve health care.
While each focused on Israel, they also made broader foreign policy arguments, stating that Obama failed to support the Iranian democracy movement and later lacked a coherent response to the Arab Spring.
"When the Arab spring began, we were caught blind," said Coleman.
There was also a significant amount of time devoted to the administration's reaction to the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
The program was largely free of the heckling that occurred at the earlier synagogue event: One man shouted out a criticism of the speakers before walking out in the middle of the program.
But Burt Siegel, a leader of the Obama Jewish Outreach PA group, said all was not well at the program, claiming he was harassed when he showed up wearing an Obama button, adding that organizers at first did not want to let him in and later warned him not to cause trouble.
"There is a lack of civility within the Jewish community," stated Siegel, who was the longtime director of the Jewish Community Relations Council and has become active in Democratic politics since his retirement. "The fact that people in the Jewish community are treating each other this way, it's disgusting."
Brooks disputed this account and said the RJC was hoping to attract Obama supporters and undecideds to the event.
"We were trying to market this," he said, "so we weren't just preaching to the converted."