US Republican President candidate-presumptive
Mitt Romney is set to arrive in Israel Saturday evening, for a
36-hour visit during which he will meet Israeli and Palestinian
Stopovers abroad have become a familiar feature of US presidential campaigns; it is a chance for other countries to get to know the presidential hopeful, and the massive media coverage serves as way of wooing potential voters back home.
Although Romney has scheduled talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, he will not meet President Mahmoud Abbas and the overwhelming majority of his meetings are with Israelis - President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and opposition leader Shaul Mofaz.
What effect Romney's Israeli trip will have on voters back home is an open question.
US Jews have traditionally voted Democrat. President Barack Obama won between 74 to 78 per cent of the so-called Jewish vote in 2008, and according to a July survey from the non-partisan Solomon Project,US Jews "remain much more Democratic than the rest of the (US) electorate."
Will Romney be able to change this trend in the time left before the election?
Whatever the effects the visit will have on the presidential campaign, Romney's visit will also give Israelis a chance to gauge the man who would be president, and to see how he measures up against Obama.
The presidential hopeful made made a start in making his views known to Israelis even before his arrival, granting interviews to two Israeli dailies, in which he was careful to voice support for Israel.
It was what most Israelis wanted to hear, and although he will likely follow the US political tradition of not criticising the president while abroad, Romney's public comments in Jerusalem will likely play on perceived Israeli hesitation toward, even distrust of,
Despite the current almost unprecedented US-Israel security cooperation under Obama, the president, says Jerusalem Post analysts Herb Kenon,"has not transmitted to the Israeli public a feeling of caring for the country in a special way."
According to a recent poll by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, 29 per cent of Israelis believe Romney will better promote Israel's interests, compared to 22 per cent who said Obama.
Some 49 per cent said they did not know, which Kenon notes is "an astounding figure considering that Israelis generally - but not always - like and trust sitting US presidents."
The poll result is also astounding in that Romney is, for Israelis, largely an unknown quantity.
Whatever the impression Romney makes on Israelis, the more pressing issue - at least until polling day - is what impression he makes on the US voter, how many hearts and minds his 36 hours in Jerusalem succeeds in swaying.
"Tight races like the 2012 campaign are won and lost at the margins - picking up a percentage here, another there," political correspondent Beth Reinhard wrote in the Atlantic magazine. "Strategists in both parties say that the Jewish community is one place where Romney could find an edge."
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