Potential for Jewish Influence in Runoff

Potential for Jewish Influence in Runoff

Whatever the division of party loyalty among Jewish Georgians, Jewish votes could prove critical for both Warnock and Walker.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Georgia is rarely mentioned among the states where the Jewish vote can influence a statewide election.

That said, Jewish Georgians could play an out-sized role in the Dec. 6 U.S. Senate runoff between incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker.

The general election vote was close, with roughly 37,600 votes — out of 3.93 million cast — separating Warnock’s 49.44 percent from Walker’s 48.49. It was the 2.07 percent garnered by Libertarian Chase Oliver that prevented either from reaching the majority necessary to win under Georgia law. Voters registered by Nov. 7 are eligible to cast ballots in the runoff.

Early voting statewide began Monday, Nov. 28 and ends Friday, Dec. 2. The deadline for requesting an absentee or mail-in ballot was Nov. 28 and those ballots must be received by county election offices by 7 p.m. on Dec. 6. Polls open at 7 a.m. on Dec. 6 and close at 7 p.m.

Democratic Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock

Unofficial results already give Democrats 50 seats in the Senate when the 118th Congress convenes in January, with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote. A Warnock victory would add a 51st, a cushion if a Democrat breaks ranks and votes with Republicans. A Walker victory would maintain the current party balance.

The Georgia secretary of state reported that 57 percent of 7 million active eligible voters cast ballots on Nov. 8. In a similarly close runoff, the votes of even a small segment of the population could prove critical.

Georgia’s Jewish population usually is estimated at about 130,000 — 1.2 percent of the state’s population — though the American Jewish Year Book pegs the figure at 141,000 for 2022.

Republican challenger Herschel Walker

Using the 130,000 figure, Census data suggests that nearly 92,000 are of voting age. Researchers say that Jews vote in presidential elections in the range of 80 percent. If all Jewish adults in Georgia were registered and if — for argument’s sake — two-thirds voted in the runoff, that would yield 60,700 potential Jewish votes, a figure far in excess of the margin separating Warnock and Walker.

National surveys find that upwards of 70 percent of Jewish Americans support Democratic candidates, but conversations with politically engaged members of the community suggest that that split in Georgia may be closer to 60 percent. Whatever the balance, Jewish votes are votes that Warnock and Walker will want.

Michael Rosenzweig, an Atlanta attorney and a national vice chair of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, remained optimistic about Warnock’s chances of winning a full, six-year term in the Senate. “I think there’s good reason to believe that Warnock will do even better with the Jewish vote than he did in the general election,” Rosenzweig said.

That belief stems in large measure from results of the general election. In winning a second term as governor, Republican Brian Kemp outpolled Walker by more than 203,000 votes, suggesting that a significant number of Republicans may have voted for Warnock.

“We aim to reach out to all of the Democrats and independents and some Republicans, particularly Republican women,” Rosenzweig said, citing Warnock’s appeal on such issues as safeguarding democracy, abortion rights, and responding to antisemitism and extremism.

Republicans recognize the need to identify and contact voters who voted for Kemp and Warnock. “We are trying to figure that out and those are the people that we are going to talk to,” said Betsy Kramer, a long-time member of the Republican Jewish Committee and a former vice-chair of the Fulton County Republican Party.

Chuck Berk, co-chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition chapter in Atlanta, said, “Jews are concerned about the same issues as the general public. If you are concerned with higher prices for food, heating your home, gas prices and general inflation, then you need to vote for Walker, who will stop all the reckless spending in Washington, trillions of dollars.” He added migrants entering the country illegally and drug trafficking to the list.

“If you are concerned about Israel, then you need to support Walker, who agrees with the Abraham Accords and will fight for all of the pro-Israel policies of the previous administration,” Berk said. “Warnock supports Biden’s efforts to broker a new Iran deal and loosen sanctions on Iran, a country that is supplying drones and military equipment to the Russians in their fight with Ukraine.”

Rosenzweig said of Warnock, “He’s had a very strong record on being pro-Israel. He’s really kept that promise.”

A full-page advertisement placed in the Nov. 15 edition of the AJT by the Democratic Majority for Israel’s political action committee called Warnock “a pro-Israel champion in Congress.” The ad stated that Warnock “Fought to ensure that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon” and “Worked to expand the historic Abraham Accords,” while also supporting $3.8 billion in annual U.S. aid to Israel; opposing the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement, and speaking out against acts of antisemitism.

read more: