LAS VEGAS (AP) — Republican luminaries and presidential hopefuls reiterated their support for Israel and skepticism about President Obama's proposed nuclear deal with Iran as an influential group of Republican Jews gathered Saturday at the casino of GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.
Addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition has become something of a ritual for the GOP's 2016 presidential field trying to secure the backing of Adelson and other deep-pocketed donors in the group. On Saturday, two Texans -- U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and former governor Rick Perry -- spoke to an organization that's boasting of growing membership but also anxious about an Iran deal that was repeatedly described as a threat to Israel's future existence.
"Will the subsequent maps of the world show a nation of Israel?" Cruz asked the crowd during his speech. "That's what the stakes are."
Republican Jewish Coalition Chairman David Flaum kicked off the morning meeting -- the only public portion of the group's four-day gathering -- calling on President Obama to "hit the pause button, negotiate a better deal."
Cruz, famous for triggering the 2013 government shutdown, vowed to do "everything humanly possible" in the Senate to nix the nuclear deal. Perry also called for scrapping the agreement and called for expanded defense spending, troops on the Polish border to contain a newly-aggressive Russia and a clear posture against Islamic extremism.
"This isn't a call to war," Perry said. "It's a call to the type of strength that prevents a war."
The coalition says its membership has more than doubled in the past two years and donations are rising fast enough to guarantee its 2016 spending will exceed the $4.5 million it spent on ads opposing Obama's re-election in 2012. "Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are our best recruiters," spokesman Mark McNulty said.
Republicans are hopeful that concern over Obama's deal with Iran will translate into increased support by Jewish voters in 2016. "The political climate right now is very strong for us, and everybody here feels that opportunity," coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks said.
Democrats, of course, contend otherwise. "Jewish voters would be more receptive to Republicans if the party stopped trying to politicize the U.S.-Israel relationship and started focusing on economic and human dignity and service issues important to American Jews," Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a call with reporters Friday.
The gathering, which ends on Sunday, has also included sessions with Republican boldfaced names like House Speaker John Boehner and former President George W. Bush.
On Saturday, Cruz began his speech by noting that everyone who comes before the coalition vows to stand with Israel "unless you are a blithering idiot." Former George W. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters afterward that was true but that he senses a different intensity in the applause for the pro-Israel speeches this year.
"There is a palpable hunger to hear the right, good things about Israel, because we're not hearing it from the White House," Fleischer said.