As Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan head toward the GOP convention in Tampa next week and the home stretch of the campaign, could House Majority Leader Eric Cantor be the man with a mission to woo the Jews?
Cantor endorsed Romney back in March, saying he’s the right guy “to lead this economy back to a growth mode, create jobs so people can feel better about the future.”
But the sole Jewish Republican in Congress hasn’t campaigned for the ticket. While in Tampa for the convention, it could be easy for him to pop into some heavily Jewish Florida communities to address concerns and misperceptions about federal benefits in a Romney administration. The Jewish Week’s request to the leader’s office for comment on any upcoming appearances was not answered by press time.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who is running for Congress as a Republican in northern New Jersey and has forged some ties with Cantor, said the leader’s high profile would make him a natural choice as a campaign envoy to Jewish communities in battleground states.
“He’s highly regarded in the Jewish community because of his strong Jewish identity, and I’m sure he will utilize some of those connections to help raise money for Romney and generally win over support,” said Boteach.
He said that in addition to the usual talking points about the Obama administration’s Israel policies, Cantor could score points with middle-of-the-road Jewish voters by promoting vouchers for private school education.
“There is no greater challenge to the future of the community than Jewish education and the unaffordability of Jewish day schools,” said Rabbi Boteach.
Romney has supported use of federal money to allow K-12 students to attend the school of their choice, but has been careful to avoid the hot-button term “voucher,” according to The New York Times.
Rabbi Boteach said Cantor served as a “principal liaison to the Jewish community” for the McCain campaign in 2008 as deputy whip of the House and “now he’s one of the leaders of the party. He’s like Lieberman for the Democrats.”
Cantor hasn’t pulled punches in the partisan war for Jewish hearts and minds. Last month he attacked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for saying on Bloomberg TV that “many of the Republicans are using Israel as an excuse — what they really want are tax cuts for the wealthy.”
In response, Cantor said in a statement: “It is both patronizing and deeply insulting for Nancy Pelosi to suggest any Jew is ‘exploited’ for their political beliefs or that support for Israel is somehow an ‘excuse’ for anything. Such thinking diminishes the importance of issues affecting Jews everywhere.”
Kyle Kondik, a spokesman for the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said that while Cantor may be useful for fundraising, “I don’t see him being out front and center for the Romney campaign. Members of the House are not that well known across the country.”
“Obama got three-quarters or more of the Jewish vote [in 2008]. There has been a lot written about the Jewish vote being in play, but I can’t imagine he will lose that much of it.”