Israel issue could help Romney with evangelicals

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Philip Klein

Whenever Israel is mentioned in the political context, commentators normally focus on the impact of U.S. policy on the Jewish vote. In doing so, they overlook the fact that supporting Israel has become a core issue for many evangelicals, who make up a much larger portion of the electorate than Jewish voters. This reality could hold the key for Mitt Romney as he contemplates ways to secure and energize evangelical voters should he win the Republican nomination.

It’s always important to keep in mind that Jewish voters, who make up just two percent of the national electorate, tend to be concentrated in states that are already typically locks for Democrats (such as Massachusetts, New York and California), leaving Florida as the one swing state where there’s a large Jewish presence. But even there, Jewish voters only made up four percent of the electorate in 2008, according to exit polls. By contrast, evangelicals made up 26 percent of the electorate nationally and 24 percent in Florida. A small shift in evangelical turnout or support could make the difference in swing states such as Ohio, Iowa, Virginia and North Carolina.  

David Brog, executive director of Christians United for Israel, a pro-Israel group that claims 930,000 members, told the Washington Examiner that for many evangelicals, support for Israel is right up there with abortion and marriage as a key motivating factor in elections.

“Very often, they’re going to bring up Israel as one of the primary complaints they have against the Obama administration, therefore, it becomes one of the primary motives to vote for an alternative,” Brog said.

This reality could provide a boost for Romney. As Ryan Lizza details, during this year’s primaries, “Romney has lost evangelicals in every contest—and by an average of fifteen points.”

Though a lot of analysts attribute this to anti-Mormon sentiment, a bigger factor is that his history of flip-flopping, particularly on abortion, has raised doubts about his sincerity on social issues. But there’s nothing in his past that raises questions about the sincerity of his support for Israel. With Iran denying the Holocaust and threatening to wipe Israel off the map within the context of moving toward a nuclear weapon, the stakes couldn’t be higher for supporters of Israel, and the issue will be a top international news story throughout the election year.

“Whether there’s an Israeli strike or not, the issue of Israel threatened by Iran and a perception that the administration has not confronted Iran’s march towards nuclear weapons with sufficient courage and clarity, is absolutely going to motivate the base,” Brog said.

Beyond the base, however, Brog observed that, “The Hispanic evangelicals are one of the most fought over groups of swing voters in national elections, because on the social issues they’re with the Republicans, but when it comes to other issues like immigration they tend to be more in line with the Democrats. We have a lot of Hispanic evangelicals in our organization, and I know Israel is another crucial issue for them when they decide.”

In his speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee this morning, Romney delivered a blistering critique of Obama’s policies on Israel and Iran. Were he to become the nominee, that has the making of a potentially powerful outreach effort to otherwise skeptical evangelical voters.

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