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The Republican candidate heads to the Jewish state to shore up his Christian base.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Like Barack Obama and George W. Bush before him, Mitt Romney is making a politically calculated trip to Israel.
Unlike his predecessors, however, the GOP presidential hopeful will travel to the Jewish state less concerned about demonstrating his foreign policy prowess than reassuring evangelical and neoconservative voters back home about his Judeo-Christian values.
"Presidential candidates like to burnish their international credentials in the summer," said Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "Romney is doing what Obama did in the summer of 2008."
"But a trip to Israel is also a chance for Romney to consolidate support among conservative Evangelical Christians, many of whom have been less than excited about his candidacy. These voters, an important part of the GOP base, are strongly pro-Israel in their foreign policy outlook."
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Days before kicking off his first overseas trip of the campaign, Romney reiterated his unwavering support for the Jewish State in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention in Reno, Nevada.
"The people of Israel deserve better than what they have received from the leader of the free world. And the chorus of accusations, threats, and insults at the United Nations should never again include the voice of the president of the United States," Romney told attendees at theto the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention in Reno, Nev.
The former Massachusetts governor will travel to Israel after attending the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in London on July 27. He will be welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a friend since 1976 when both men worked at the Boston Consulting Group.
Romney has made no secret of his admiration for Netanyahu, asserting on multiple occasions that he would defer to the Israeli leader before making important policy decisions regarding the region.
During the Republican primary late last year, Romney criticized former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for a controversial statement about Palestinians, noting: “Before I made a statement of that nature, I’d get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say: ‘Would it help if I say this? What would you like me to do?’"
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire pro-Israel financier who once pumped more than $10 million into the super PAC supporting Gingrich, has now turned his attention — and wallet — toward getting Romney elected.
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Adelson, a casino owner listed in the Forbes 400 list as the eighth wealthiest American, has made a priority of bankrolling candidates who he believes will deliver on his desires for the Jewish State.
"He is so hawkish on Israel that he finds AIPAC dovish," said University of Delaware international relations professor Muqtedar Khan, referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a lobbying group that advocates pro-Israel policies. "If you gave me $50 million, I'd take a trip to Israel too."
Adelson has criticized Obama for supporting a two-state solution in Israel. Unlike Gingrich, Romney has said he would support giving Palestinians their own state. But he blames Palestinians for resisting the idea.
"There are some people who say, should we have a two-state solution? And the Israelis would be happy to have a two-state solution. It's the Palestinians who don't want a two-state solution. They want to eliminate the state of Israel," Romney said during a January primary debate. "The best way to have peace in the Middle East is not for us to vacillate and to appease, but is to say, 'We stand with our friend Israel. We are committed to a Jewish state in Israel. We will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally, Israel.'"
Adelson is also close with Netanyahu, who himself is popular among neoconservatives and evangelical Christians who tend to be staunchly pro-Israel, according to Khan.
A Pew poll released earlier this month showed Romney getting 72 percent of the white Evangelical vote. John McCain won 73 percent of Evangelicals in 2008. Nevertheless, the Romney camp remains concerned about their overall enthusiasm for his candidacy, which could translate into lower voter turnout.
"At the end of the day, Evangelicals will predominantly vote for Romney because Obama is completely unacceptable to a large portion of them. But plenty of polls have shown that Evangelicals are skeptical, if not critical, of Mormonism. So the concern for the Romney camp is the level of enthusiasm