Mitt Romney's Trip to Israel: Is the Jewish Vote up for Grabs?

The Republican doesn't expect to win the group, but he's emphasized strained American-Israeli relations as a way to cut into Obama's advantage.

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Mitt Romney addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in March via videoconference. (Reuters)

Why is this election year different from all other election years? The answer to this twist on the age-old Passover seder question is, probably not much, at least when it comes to the Jewish vote.

Every four years, the Republican presidential nominee makes a play for Jewish voters, and every four years, the ticket falls woefully short. Since 1992, the GOP nominee has received between 15 percent and 23 percent of the Jewish vote, according to a new analysis from the nonpartisan Solomon Project.

Recent history is not deterring Mitt Romney, however, who will make the biggest overture possible to the American Jewish community when he arrives in Israel on Sunday.

For Romney, it could be worth it.

Tight races like the 2012 campaign are won and lost at the margins -- picking up a percentage here, another there -- and strategists in both parties say that the Jewish community is one place where Romney could find an edge. A Gallup poll in June showed Obama receiving 64 percent of the Jewish vote. That's a 10-point drop from his level of support shortly before the 2008 election and five points worse than his overall decline among registered voters.

"He's in what I would call the danger zone for a Democrat," said Tevi Troy, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a Romney adviser. "The question is not whether the Republican nominee is going to get the majority of the Jewish vote. It's whether the party will make important inroads in the community, and I'm optimistic that we will."

Romney also will visit London and Poland in his first overseas trip as the presumed GOP nominee.

In a sign that Obama's team is eyeing Romney's itinerary closely, top campaign surrogates gave a sweeping defense of the administration's commitment to Israel nearly a week in advance of the Republican's trip in a telephone call with reporters. Robert Gibbs, a senior adviser to the Obama campaign, said on Monday that Obama had "substantive meetings" with Israeli and Palestinian leaders as a candidate in 2008 and questioned whether Romney's overseas trip will be "one long photo-op." Gibbs also downplayed the tension between the Obama administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Colin Kahl, former deputy assistant Defense secretary for the Middle East, said that Obama has offered "record high'' security funding, helped build an iron-dome system to protect Israelis from rockets coming from the Gaza strip, and acted aggressively to thwart Iran's nuclear threat.

Kahl also went so far as to say that Jewish voters could expect Obama to make a trip to Israel during his second term. He noted that Ronald Reagan never visited Israel during his administration and that George W. Bush did not go until the last year of his second term.

"Being a friend to Israel, at least in our view, shouldn't be judged purely by a travel itinerary," Kahl said. "The administration's support and cooperation for Israel has been unprecedented."

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Beth Reinhard is a political correspondent for National Journal.

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