The election produced a mixed bag on the Jewish front: candidates who won, who lost, and whose fate remains to be determined, along with Atlanta partisans who feel elated and excited or who are coming to grips with disappointing results.
As of Nov. 9, Democratic former vice president Joe Biden held a 0.23 percent lead over President Donald Trump in Georgia, amounting to more than 11,000 votes out of more than 4.98 million that had been counted. Georgia has not been called for Biden, though his lead continued to increase in the week since Election Day on Nov. 3. Georgia last backed the Democratic standard bearer in 1992, and even then, Bill Clinton’s margin over George W. Bush was about .06 percent.
Biden was projected the unofficial winner nationally by major media organizations on Nov. 7, but at this writing Trump has not conceded.
“The results of the presidential election are a victory for decency, character and integrity,” said Michael Rosenzweig, a member of the Jewish Democratic Council of America board. “Both the popular and electoral college votes reflect Americans’ rejection of the divisiveness and basic indecency that have characterized the Trump presidency,”
Chuck Berk, who heads the Atlanta chapter of the Jewish Republican Coalition, saw things differently. “I watched Joe Biden’s ‘acceptance’ speech. He called for unity and bringing people together, all noble goals which is a common theme in these type speeches. It would be great for all to work for liberty, freedom and belief in G-d,” Berk told the AJT. “Why do I find this disingenuous coming from a man and a party that NEVER accepted Donald Trump as our president for the last four years and spearheaded a resistance movement to discredit him every day with phony issues like the Russian investigation and the Ukraine impeachment? If Biden really wants unity he must also rein in his leaders, [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and [Senate Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer, who today [Nov. 9] called for winning the Georgia Senate races, not to improve America, but for a radical agenda to transform the country and ‘Change the World.’”
Georgia election law gives its 159 counties until Nov. 13 to certify their numbers, a task that 55 had completed by Nov. 9. Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has until Nov. 20 to certify the state results. Georgia does not allow automatic recounts, but a recount can be requested if the margin is less than or equal to 0.5 percent. The request for a recount must be made within two business days after certification.
And it won’t be over in Georgia for at least another eight weeks, as both of the state’s U.S. Senate seats will be decided in Jan. 5 runoff elections. The outcome of those runoffs — being held two days after the 117th Congress convenes — could determine whether Republicans retain or Democrats take control of the Senate.
For Georgians that means eight more weeks of television and radio ads, a financial boon for the companies that create those ads and the media paid to air them, not to mention the hospitality industry, as out-of-town politicos and journalists flood the state.
In one runoff, Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler will face Democrat (Rev.) Raphael Warnock, the winner to fill the two years remaining in the term of Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, who retired last December with health issues. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Loeffler to fill Isakson’s seat until the 2020 election. Warnock led the field in the 21-candidate all-comers primary with 32.9 percent of the vote, followed by Loeffler with 25.9 percent. Matt Lieberman, who is Jewish, finished fifth with 2.77 percent.
The other runoff pits incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue against Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, a Jewish native of DeKalb County. As of Nov. 8, Perdue had received 49.74 percent of the vote, Ossoff 47.94 percent, and Libertarian Shane Hazel 2.32 percent.
While Ossoff’s electoral fate remains to be determined, other Jewish candidates are reacting to voters’ choices.
Democrat Mike Wilensky won re-election in Georgia House District 79 and will be the lone Jewish legislator in the General Assembly. Wilensky told the AJT that he was “honored and grateful” to have been elected to a second term. “The principles of my faith closely tie to my principles of service,” he said. “We as Jewish people care about the state in which we live. Our people have consistently stood up for all in times of social injustice. It is important that our voice is part of the communal conversation. I am proud to be a representative of my district, our state, and of Jewish Georgians.”
Republicans remain in control of the General Assembly and thus in control of reapportionment and redistricting, the redrawing expected next summer of Georgia’s congressional and legislative districts, based on the 2020 census.
Dana Barrett left her job as a radio host on WGST to run in the 11th Congressional District as a Democrat against incumbent Republican Rep. Barry Loudermilk. She lost by a large margin but emerged undaunted. “I am grateful to my staff, my volunteers, and my supporters, and I am proud of the grassroots campaign we put together. We are a part of the new Georgia — a state that is no longer guaranteed red,” Barrett said in a statement.
“We knew from the start that this would be a tough district to win, but I firmly believe that progress starts with the first step and that you don’t choose a fight because it’s easy. I got into this race because I believe in a government that works for all of its citizens, and I believe it is our job to hold our elected officials accountable,” she said.
Lieberman became resigned to his fate as more and more money was injected into the race. “I’m very happy with our effort, and I feel that our message resonated for as long as we could get it out there. As long as I was outspent only 10-to-1, we led. Once it got to 100-to-1, we couldn’t compete. People want change. They want something other than the polarizing, paralyzing hyper-partisanship and meanness of today. If over the next period of time I can help figure out a way towards a better delivery of public service, that would be great,” he told the AJT.
Lieberman declined to comment on the pre-election public appeals by several hundred members of the Atlanta Jewish community that he withdraw from the race and back Warnock.
For all the election hype hoopla, turnout in Georgia hovered around two-thirds of the state’s registered voters, falling short of the record three-quarters turnout in 2016.
Laurie Weinstein, a long-time member of RJC, questioned the vote-counting process. “While watching President Trump speak the evening of Nov. 5, in 15 minutes his numbers on the right of the screen dropped 6,000 votes in Georgia and 11,000 in Pennsylvania. I found that very concerning, and even Bret Baier of Fox News mentioned it,” Weinstein said in email to the AJT. “The GOP was not allowed to view the counting of the ballots, which has always taken place in the past. Postmarks were ignored, voter roll names and signatures were not verified. It also appears that most, if not all the ‘mail-in’ ballots went to Joe Biden. At this point, it’s not about the election, but about the integrity of the election in this country,” Weinstein said. “It is my hope that the two runoff Senate seats will remain in control of the Republican Party to maintain a balance of power.”
When he addressed reporters on Nov. 9, Georgia Voting System Implementation Manager Gabriel Sterling, a Republican working for the Republican secretary of state, said, “The facts are facts, regardless of outcome. . . In Georgia, we had an actual, accurate outcome.”
Valerie Habif, a co-founder of the Jewish Democratic Women’s Salon, said, “If we learned anything from this election it is that EVERY SINGLE VOTE counts. Democrats, as well as some Republicans, came together in support of decency and the need to elect government officials who will represent all of us, not just some of us. This election serves as a reminder that democracy works and that in a representative government, our vote is our voice.”
There was variance in the estimates of how Jews voted. Based on a sampling of 3,315 Jewish voters, the Associated Press VoteCast, which was not a traditional exit poll, found that Biden won 68 percent and Trump 30 percent nationally. A poll commissioned by the Republican Jewish Coalition, with a sample of 600, pegged the Jewish vote at 60.6 percent for Biden and 30.5 percent for Trump. A showing of 30 percent would be the highest of a Republican nominee since George H.W. Bush in 1988. A poll commissioned by J Street, a progressive Jewish group, gave Biden 77 percent and Trump 21 percent from a sample size of 800.
Jewish supporters of Biden and Trump framed those numbers to their perspective.
Scott Rafshoon, co-chair of the J Street chapter in Atlanta, said, “The election of Joe Biden and the defeat of Donald Trump is a vindication of American democracy and of the ideals that Americans, including American Jews, hold dear.”
Berk noted both the 30.5 percent figure in the RJC poll, and a New York Times/AP survey that found 41 percent of Jewish voters in Florida to have backed Trump. Florida was identified in a pre-election report from the Ruderman Family Foundation as being one of four states where the Jewish vote could potentially tip the balance. Trump won two of the four states, Florida and Ohio. “It appears that a greater number of Jews in this election recognized all the strong support President Donald Trump has provided to Israel and the Jewish community,” he said.
The two other states named in the Ruderman Foundation report were Michigan and Pennsylvania, both which were put into Biden’s column by narrow margins.
- Dave Schechter
- Election Day
- Joe Biden
- Donald Trump
- Michael Rosenzweig
- Democratic Council of America
- Chuck Berk
- Jewish Republican Coalition
- Brad Raffensperger
- Raphael Warnock
- Kelly Loeffler
- Jon Ossoff
- David Perdue
- Mike Wilensky
- Matt Lieberman
- Valerie Habif
- Laurie Weinstein
- Scott Rafshoon