Date published: November 4, 2010
Candidates expended tremendous resources on targeting Jewish voters in this week's elections. Exponent staffers fanned out to polling stations to see what our local folks were thinking.
In the city, there appeared to be a stark contrast between the generations.
At the Philadelphian - the huge Center City apartment building where the Democratic committeewoman in charge of polling estimated that more than 90 percent of voters are Jewish - Al Abramson was one of a minority of Jews who said he was swayed by political advertising and angst about Sestak's record on Israel.
"If the stories are true - and I have no reason to believe they're not - I'm not voting for him," he said.
"America is the No. 1 issue," said the 83-year-old, "but Israel is a very important issue for me."
More typical was 92-year-old Belle Parmat, who voted a straight Democratic ticket - and has since the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She echoed the views of many when she said she was turned off by the advertising aimed at Jews.
"This was not a Jewish issue," she said, citing in particular the Republican Jewish Coalition TV ad critical of Sestak for wanting to try terror suspects in a civilian court. "I don't think it was an issue at all."
With a walker in front and an aide by her side, Parmat said the most important issue in this election was to keep President Barack Obama and the Democrats in power "long enough to enact some of their legislation" and "not set the country back 1,000 years."
At the University of Pennsylvania, many students said they voted absentee in their hometowns, but Boston native Marissa Schwartz said she purposefully registered here because her Republican vote would have more impact. Israel and the economy top her list of priorities.
"I just believe that government spending is not going to solve our problems, and it's really important to have a balanced Congress," said the 19-year-old freshman.
She was not alone sounding a Republican theme among many of the students interviewed at the Perm Hillel.
Josh Belfer, a 20-year-old sophomore from Cherry Hill, N.J., said he's stuck to Republican candidates in his short voting record because he favors the party's stance on national defense and homeland security, though he considers himself more moderate on social policies.
"This was the first time people could look back and sort of voice their views about the work that Congress has done" since Obama was elected with "tons of hope" behind him, said Belfer.
There was an expectation that Democrats would be able to make significant change once they had control of Congress, said 20-year-old Josh Dembowitz.
Instead, "they're demonstrating that they're just as incompetent as anybody else," said Dembowitz. "The tremendous wave of optimism following the '08 election has not resulted in more effective policies."
Though Dembowitz is registered as an Independent, the sophomore said he chose all Republican candidates when he voted absentee in New Jersey, except for John Adler, who lost his bid. Dembowitz said he wanted to support Adler's opponent, former Eagles player Jon Runyan, but he just didn't feel comfortable with the thought of having someone with no political experience in office.
For Democrat Daneel Schaechter of Manhattan, close races prompted him to register in Pennsylvania, even though he's only lived here for two months. The first-time voter spent last year in Israel.
The senate race was Schaechter's primary concern, though the 19-year-old freshman admitted he voted more out of support for the party than for Sestak. He couldn't even remember the name of the Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
"I would've liked to make a better choice," said Schaechter. "Sadly, I don't think there was enough information circulated about the views of both the Republicans and Democrats."
On the Main Line, Jill Jacobs Cohen brought her 4-year-old twin daughters into the voting booth at Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia in Wynnewood.
"I think this is one of the most important elections of my lifetime," said the 36-year-old Democrat. "On the Republican side, there are a number of extremist candidates that pose a threat to my most dearly held beliefs."
Torah Academy parent Isaac Sasson, a 35-year-old physician, said he was voting for Joe Sestak because of his experience and pragmatism.
What about the efforts on the part of Republicans to portray Sestak as anti-Israel? Sasson said that he favored Sestak's commitment to the two-state solution.
"Sometimes, you have to stand behind Israel, and sometimes, Israel needs to be told you got to play better in the playground," said Sasson, who said he has gotten into disagreements with his father-inlaw on whether Israel should rank as top priority in choosing a candidate.
Kathryn Moscotti, 65, of Wynnewood, said she usually splits her ticket, but for the first time, she voted all Democrat.
A Republican victory she said, "will really thwart Obama's agenda for trying to move the country forward. Right now, the Republicans are such obstructionists," said Moscotti. "I am so afraid of the Tea Party people. I'm afraid of their ideas, their bigotry, their fear-mongering - it's a litany of things."
At the Mary J. Drexel senior home in Bala Cynwyd, Democrats also dominated at the polling station. Among them was Rochelle Matusow, 56, who sells cable-television advertising for a living, but called all the political advertising "annoying."
"It didn't influence me" a bit, she said.
Nicole Tell said she "zones out" when it comes to most political advertising. She labeled herself an "interesting Democrat" who voted for Sestak because "Toomey scares me; he's a little too right for me."
Still, she did pull the lever for Republican Jim Gerlach as her representative in the House.
"He's one of the last moderate Republicans; I wish there were more like him," she said, noting that she personally knew Gerlach, who won his contest against Democrat rival Manan Trivedi.
Calling herself "non-religious and non-Zionist," she said a candidate's position on Israel was not important to her.
But, the 39-year-old added, she was "sometimes surprised by those my age" who do look at the Israel issue in considering candidates.
In the northern suburbs, Dick Sundheim, 78, of Melrose Park, who's been active for years in Republican politics in Cheltenham Township, stuck with his party.
Sundheim hoped his vote would help "slow down the move to socialism that's been going on for the last two years" under the president.
But he was in the minority.
Even Jerry Verlin, 66, of Elkins Park, a registered Republican, said he crossed party lines - as he's done in the past - to vote for Joe Sestak for Senate and Dan Onorato for governor. Sestak was his choice, he said, because he felt "very negative about negative advertising," a comment about the ads that accompanied Sestak's Republican challenger, Pat Toomey.
His vote went to Onorato in the gubernatorial race, he explained, because of his concerns over the recent gas drilling that's been done in upstate Pennsylvania. He supported the Democratic contender's approach to it.
Bernie Kalodner, 65, an attorney from Rydal, was casting a vote for Democrats at the Meadowbrook polling station.
"No way I'm going to vote for Toomey and Corbett," he said, citing his own support for the health care legislation.
Both he and Dr. Lance Horwitz, 68, of Jenkintown, who voted the straight Democratic ticket, said the ads targeted at Jewish voters had no impact on them.
"The campaign and its rhetoric were unrelated to reality," said Horwitz. "Civility has gone" from the process.
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