Last night, President Obama won re-election by an Electoral College margin sufficient to render Florida irrelevant, and according to exit polls he won it with a comfortable supermajority among Jewish voters—not as many as voted for him in 2008, but still far more than the dismal 44 percent who voted for Jimmy Carter in 1980. Other than the president, the biggest winner of the night was statistician Nate Silver, whose state-by-state predictions were on the money.
But let’s talk about the night’s biggest loser: not Mitt Romney, but Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino mogul who gambled at least $70 million on Romney’s candidacy. Adelson’s acumen as an entrepreneur has allowed him to rebuild his fortune several times over, but his track record as a political investor is notably weak. His first horse in the 2012 race was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose campaign imploded repeatedly before he withdrew for good last May. As a board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Adelson doubled down and gave millions to partisan Jewish groups to pay for television ads, robocalls, and print mailers to peel away Jewish support for Obama, apparently with only a negligible yield.
“This is a resounding defeat for Sheldon Adelson,” Robert Wexler, the former Florida congressman and frequent Obama surrogate, said after the race was called. “It is a profound result given the extraordinary efforts made against the president for the last two years.”
The results for Jewish Republican partisans were just as bad down the ballot as at the top. In Ohio, the party’s star Senate candidate, Josh Mandel—a Jewish Marine who is a veteran of the Iraq war—lost to the incumbent, Sherrod Brown, by a larger margin than Romney lost to Obama. Former Virginia Sen. George Allen, lately attuned to his Jewish roots, lost his comeback attempt, and in Hawaii, former Gov. Linda Lingle lost the state’s Senate race to a Democratic congresswoman, Mazie Hirono.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach lost his effort to win a New Jersey House seat, and in Florida, Lois Frankel, the Democratic former mayor of West Palm Beach, beat Adam Hasner, a 42-year-old Jewish Republican former state representative who launched his congressional run after losing Florida’s Senate primary. Meanwhile, Democrat Brad Schneider, running as a rookie candidate, successfully challenged a sitting congressman, Robert Dold, on Chicago’s North Shore.
The only major loss for Jewish Democrats was in Nevada, where Rep. Shelley Berkley failed to make the leap to the Senate. In part, this may have actually been thanks to Adelson, her former boss, with whom she had a public falling out in the late 1990s. He spent at least $4 million to beat her, and it worked: The state’s voters split their ballots and gave their six electoral votes to Obama and kept their Republican incumbent senator, Dean Heller. (Berkley, as it happens, was one of a handful of Democratic Jewish politicians who publicly voiced displeasure with Obama’s approach to Israel policy. In October 2010, she told Tablet, “Right now, he’s in a very bad place with the organized Jewish community.”)
In the last year, and particularly in the last few weeks, as the weaknesses of the Republican electoral coalition grew more apparent, some of the president’s most vocal Democratic critics—former New York City Mayor Ed Koch and Alan Dershowitz most prominent among them—publicly recanted their doubts about his support for Israel and encouraged Jewish voters to support him. Whether they meant it, or are playing a long game that preserves their influence among Jewish voters and in a shifting Democratic Party, they are among the secondary winners of the 2012 election.
Allison Hoffman is a senior editor at Tablet Magazine. Her Twitter feed is @allisont_dc.