Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama seemed to have gained some momentum after the Supreme Court upheld his comprehensive health-care reform law. But Friday's disappointing jobs report suggests the celebration by the Obama campaign may have been premature. The economy added only 80,000 new jobs in June — far fewer than had been expected, with unemployment still at 8.2 percent. In one fell swoop, the optimism exuded by the Obama people disappeared. His Republican challenger, former Governor Mitt Romney, on the other hand, now has extra ammo to use against him.
Romney, who had been slipping in the polls and had his past scrutinized in several unflattering stories in the press, suddenly saw an opening that could be of use if he figures out a way to focus on his economic message. History is on Romney's side: Only one post-World War II president was re-elected to a second term with unemployment higher than 7% — President Ronald Reagan in 1984. The stagnant job market suggests that a complete recovery is still far off. Unemployment figures at the state level are also quite telling, with Florida serving as a case in point. The Sunshine State is situated at a crucial intersection on the electoral map, just like it was in 2000. The percentage of Floridians who are out of work in the state is even higher than the national average (8.6%). This statistic could carry significant weight, since Florida, with its 29 electoral votes, could help decide which way the elections go come November.
The fact that Florida is a key battleground state will undoubtably influence the way the parties court Jewish voters, who make up a significant proportion of the state's population — an estimated 650,000 people — and generally have a higher turnout compared to the national average. The election has so far focused on the Hispanic vote, but Republicans have set their sights on winning more Jewish votes and consider this a strategic goal. They have even greater impetus to do so because of the unfond memories that many Jewish groups still carry from Obama's contrarian policy toward Israel at the outset of his presidency, which led many Jews to abandon him.
Romney's upcoming visit to the Holy Land should be viewed within this context. The presumptive Republican nominee is expected to shower Israel with love, empathy and support and fully embrace its ethos, heritage, history and national security concerns. Romney hopes that by showing his affection to Israel, he can win the hearts and checkbooks of Jewish voters in Miami, Cleveland and other Jewish strongholds.
Romney also hopes that the trip will have the same effect on evangelical voters, a constituency known for its ironclad support of Israel but also for its wariness and half-embrace of Romney. The visit will also serve as a crucial stepping stone for Romney if he wants to outperform Obama in the polls (the president is currently ahead by 3 points) as the campaign enters its final stretch. In July 2008, then-Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama chose Jerusalem (and Sderot) as a stopover on his way to the White House.
Will Israel's capital catapult Romney to the presidency as well? The interparty division over how to best tackle the travails and weaknesses of the U.S. economy is at the front and center of this election. But what's at the heart of this campaign is the fundamental disagreement over the proper role of government in society, the norms and values that should govern the country's domestic and foreign policy agenda, and the decline of American hegemony on the world stage. In a sense, this is a referendum over the incumbent president. The voters will have to weigh in on the following question: Do you want a repeat of the past four years?