Inside the Texan’s unorthodox bid to win over New York’s Orthodox Jews.
It was a December day in New Jersey, and Ted Cruz was keeping the rabbi waiting.
Cruz was tardy, Rabbi Zev Reichman would later learn, because he was finishing a meal with bacon, and he didn’t want to bring the treyf into the rabbi’s car for a ride to a fundraiser with pro-Israel donors.
The gesture impressed Reichman, an influential rabbi at an Orthodox synagogue in Englewood, N.J., he recalled in an interview this week. And the demonstration of respect to dietary law paid off: The rabbi, who is also a program director at Manhattan’s Yeshiva University, is now helping to spearhead Cruz’s outreach to Orthodox Republican Jews in New York.
Cruz — who visited a matzoh bakery in Brooklyn on Thursday afternoon, rolling out the unleavened bread and joining in singing the Passover song “Dayenu” — has been wooing the Orthodox Jewish community since well before he ran for president. And as the Republican primary comes to New York on April 19, Cruz is hoping he can turn long-cultivated support into the race’s scarcest resource: delegates.
There are 95 delegates at stake in New York, Donald Trump’s home state, and one where he boasts a double-digit lead in statewide polls. But of the 95 delegates, only 14 go to the statewide winner, while 81 are handed out based on results at the congressional district level. And if Cruz can turn out Orthodox supporters in Brooklyn and other heavily Jewish districts, he may be able to improve his delegate tally in a state that was always going to be an uphill battle.
The Republican Orthodox community is small, but in heavily Democratic districts in and around New York City with few Republicans, even a small group can help win delegates — and in fact, smaller groups are easier to target.
“I think there’s some cleverness there,” said Rep. Peter King, who represents Long Island and is otherwise a vehement Cruz critic. “… Districts that have a low number of Republicans, it’s easier to appeal to them.”
Cruz, a Southern Baptist evangelical Christian, would seem a world apart from New York’s Orthodox Jewish Republican community, but there’s significant ideological overlap.
Orthodox Jews tend to be more conservative than their predominantly liberal, more secular co-religionists, and are more likely to appreciate Cruz’s conservative message on social issues and, in particular, on religious freedom.
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