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Eyeing Jewish Vote In U.S., Romney Goes To Israel

Mitt Romney meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Jan. 13, 2011.
Getty Images
Mitt Romney meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Jan. 13, 2011.

Mitt Romney flies to Israel this weekend on the second leg of his overseas tour. He'll meet with top Israeli officials as well as the Palestinian prime minister.

Romney's supporters in Israel say the Republican presidential candidate is using the trip to court the Jewish vote, which went overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in 2008.

Just days before Romney was scheduled to land in Israel, a Republican group in the United States announced a new series of ads, one of which features an American Jewish voter who talks about strongly supporting Obama four years ago — and regretting it now.

"I am a lifelong Democrat," Michael Goldstein says in the ad. "I've never voted for a Republican for president, but this time I'm going to vote for a Republican for president."

Heavily funded by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and createdby the Republican Jewish Coalition, the ad is part of a "buyer's remorse" series that its creators say airs real grievances by Jewish Americans, especially when it comes to Obama's stance on Israel.

"There's a tremendous amount of buyer's remorse within a certain segment of the Jewish community that voted for Barack Obama in 2008," says Kory Bardash, co-chairman of Republicans Abroad Israel.

He repeatedly cites what he calls the icy relationship between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"A number of our supporters and a number of our membership has been enhanced by those people who were very strong [Obama] supporters in 2008 who are crossing party lines in 2012," Bardash says.

The ad campaign is just one of several steps being taken to woo the Jewish vote. At the heart of the campaign is the Republican Party's support of Israel, something Republicans hope will be further strengthened by Romney's trip.

Marc Zell, co-chairman of Republicans Abroad Israel, says Romney's inclusion of Israel in his foreign trip, which started with a visit to the London Olympics, sends a clear message.

"The fact that he chose Israel among the 200 places in the world he could have gone tells something about the importance that Israel has as an ally of the United States," Zell says.

Romney is scheduled to arrive in Israel on Saturday, and officials there are preparing to welcome him with open arms. Netanyahu has repeatedly touted his decades-long friendship with Romney. The two men worked together at Boston Consulting Group in the 1970s.

On the eve of Romney's trip, Israeli newspapers, including the Adelson-owned Israel Hayom, carried glowing interviews with Romney. Adelson is a major campaign contributor to Republican causes. In Israel, he's also well known as a supporter of Netanyahu and several right-wing groups.

Sources close to Adelson tell NPR he will attend a fundraiser the Romney campaign is holding in Jerusalem.

Still, not everyone thinks Romney's trip will generate the kind of support his team hopes for. David Brinn, managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, says Israel doesn't rank high on the list of issues for American voters.

"I think most Americans are not voting, you know, with Israel in mind at all. Even most Jewish Americans, I don't think it's high on their priority list," he says.

In the 2008 election, 78 percent of Jewish Americans voted for Obama while 21 percent voted for Republican John McCain, according to exit polls.

Polls show a slight lessening of support for Obama this year, says pollster Jim Gerstein. But he maintains that Jewish Americans are deeply entrenched in the Democratic Party.

Brinn also says Israel's importance for American voters is being blown out of proportion.

"It is a little surprising that Romney is coming here on his sole foreign trip," Brinn says. "I would think that Israel's not such a major factor in the elections."

On Friday, Obama signed the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act in the Oval office. The law significantly expands cooperation between the U.S. and Israeli militaries. It's already made headlines in the local press, prompting one Hebrew editorial in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper to announce that Obama would not lose out on any of the Jewish vote without a fight.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sheera Frenkel