Santorum’s Southern sweep mars Romney’s front-runner status

Rick Santorum swept two Southern states in Republican primaries, complicating Mitt Romney’s status as front-runner and all but burying Newt Gingrich’s chance for the nomination.

Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who emerged from last place in polling as recently as December to become the conservative challenger to Romney, scored 33 percent of the vote in Mississippi and nearly 35 percent in Alabama. Gingrich, the former U.S. House of Representatives speaker, finished second in both states, with 31 percent in MIssissippi and 29 percent in Alabama. Romney was third with 30 percent in Mississippi and 29 percent in Alabama.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) came in a distant fourth in both races after barely campaigning in either state.

Romney, who during the campaign has tried to shuck his reputation as a moderate, had campaigned hard in a bid to prove he could win in conservative Southern states. The former Massachusetts governor is leading substantially in delegates, but his path to the nomination has been far from smooth as conservative candidates continue to mount substantive challenges.

Gingrich had suggested that if he failed to win in Mississippi and Alabama, his campaign was in trouble, predicated as it was on winning Southern states.

If Gingrich leaves the race, campaign watchers will look to see who his main backer, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, decides to support. Adelson and his wife, Miriam, twice salvaged Gingrich’s campaign with huge cash infusions; Gingrich and Adelson have been friends since the 1990s, in part because they share hard-line pro-Israel positions.

Romney has the backing of much of the Jewish Republican establishment, having attracted the bulk of Jewish donors and advisers. His appeal to Jews is based partly on his moderation and ability during his governance of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007 to appeal to liberals and independents.

Additionally he and his wife, Ann, have referred in talks to Jewish groups to their Mormon faith, likening themselves to Jewish Republicans who have pushed for prominence in a party that still draws much of its support from a Protestant base.

Both Santorum and Romney have battered President Obama for what they depict as his hostility to Israel and his fecklessness on dealing with Iran, and both say that they will repeal much of the heath care reform package passed by Obama.

Some of Santorum’s domestic policies, including statements suggesting that a “Jesus guy” is most suitable for the presidency, have alarmed some Jewish groups.

Our Annual Purim Spoof Cover 2012: Angry Beards, Donald Trump, Berman v. Sherman, Proxy Baptism


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Romney takes Florida in a romp

Mitt Romney won the Florida Republican primary by a wide margin.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, finished with 47 percent of the vote on Tuesday to easily outdistance ex-U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, who had 32 percent. Romney is a relative moderate who has struggled to appeal to the GOP’s conservative base.

The race was bitter, and the candidates competed hard for the Jewish vote in Florida.

Gingrich in the final days ran a robocall reviving a 2003 story in which Romney as governor vetoed funding for kosher kitchens in homes for the elderly. Romney had not made the original cuts targeting the kitchens and the legislature overrode his veto.

Candidates and their surrogates made appearances at Jewish events, and the Obama campaign chose the week prior to the GOP primary to open its Florida operation, with an emphasis on targeting Jewish voters.

Jewish turnout was low in a primary that was closed to all but registered Republicans, but the state GOP believes it can attract disgruntled Jewish independents and Democrats in the general election.

Much of the race focused on the troubled economy in a state where home foreclosures run high.

In his victory speech, Romney said he would repeal the health care reform passed under President Obama, cut spending and balance the budget without raising taxes.

He only alluded to Israel, saying, “I will stand shoulder to shoulder with our friends around the world.”

The two other candidates, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), received 13 and 7 percent of the vote, respectively.

The next state to vote is Nevada, which hosts a caucus on Saturday.

It was the second primary victory for Romney, who had won in New Hampshire. Gingrich took South Carolina in the run-up to Florida, while Santorum edged Romney in the Iowa caucus at the start of the primary season.

Taking the pro-Israel pulse of GOP candidates

The race for the “Who Loves Israel Most” title has been one of the most interesting developments in the Republican presidential election. It’s skewed the contest in a way that turns every vote for a candidate into a vote for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party.

As they fight for the support of the Christian conservatives, who are a powerful force in the Iowa Republican caucuses on Jan. 3, the candidates are furiously trying to outbid each other in supporting Israel and Netanyahu’s hawkish policies toward Iran and the Palestinians. The notable exception has been Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a “non-interventionist” who doesn’t want “us involved in so many messes.”

The competition points up the relationship between conservative Republicans, including pro-Likud Jews, and Evangelical Christians. The relationship is not only shaping the Iowa caucuses, 2012’s first presidential contest, but will continue through the year in the effort to unseat President Barack Obama, whom they wrong-headedly consider anti-Israel.

“President Obama has … chastised Israel,” Mitt Romney told the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting in Washington earlier this month. “He has been timid and weak in the face of the existential threat of a nuclear Iran.”

Obama, however, got a standing ovation from 6,000 Jews at the Union for Reform Judaism conference this month when he said, “It’s hard to remember a time when the administration gave more support to the security of Israel. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s a fact.”

We’ll have to wait to see how this plays out in the Jewish community in the fall campaign. A Gallup Poll in September found that 54 percent of Jews approve of Obama’s job performance, compared to his 41 percent approval rating among the entire population.

The Iowa Republican caucuses play a unique part in the presidential election process even though they are attended by just a small minority of the state’s voters. These determined Iowans drive through Midwestern winter weather to homes and other places where the meetings are held. Evangelicals are among the most determined, and, in 2008, they gave former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, a victory over Romney. Huckabee was later sidelined by Sen. John McCain, who became the nominee. That showed how poor a predictor the caucuses are and raises the question of why the media gives them so much importance. But journalists love them — and the compact, easy-to-cover state — so caucuses are the big show of every presidential year.

With the caucuses fast approaching, candidates Romney, Paul, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann are hammering one another. John Huntsman is not campaigning in Iowa.

In this year’s many televised debates, in speeches in restaurants and meeting halls, most of the other candidates are ganging up on Gingrich for his three marriages, marital infidelity, a million-dollar payment for working for the federally backed mortgage agencies and for being, as Romney put it, “zany.” All the candidates are indicting Obama on charges of weakness, gutlessness and general incompetence.

If you are interested in both theology and politics, you can’t beat the Israel issue, which nicely combines the two subjects.

Israel and the Jews are of great religious significance to Evangelical Christians. Central to their beliefs is the notion that all of the Holy Land — Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Settlements, everything — should belong to the Jews. The Rev. John Hagee, the fundamentalist minister who founded Christians United for Israel, said any country trying to “divide up Israel will experience the judgment of the Lord.”

According to his belief, and that of other Evangelicals, Israel must be in Jewish hands before the Rapture can occur. In the Rapture, as Hagee explained to NPR’s Terry Gross in 2006, “In the twinkling of an eye, the dead in Christ shall rise, and we who are alive … shall be caught up to be with the Lord. … That means instantaneously every believer will leave this earth.”

Gross noted, “Everyone I’ve heard talking about the Rapture believes Muslims, Jews, other non-believers will be left behind to face the Tribulation on earth,” a miserable time of catastrophe and death.

“You have to believe in Jesus Christ … yes you do, it is part of the Rapture,” Hagee replied.

In other words, as Tom Tugend wrote in this newspaper in 2010, Rapture believers think, “Jews will either see the light and accept Jesus Christ, or die.”

Many Jews value the support of Evangelical Christians, who use their considerable political influence lobbying for Israel. Sen. Joseph Lieberman and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, two of this nation’s most prominent elected Jewish officials, have appeared at Hagee’s Christians United for Israel meetings in Washington. Obviously, such American Jews believe the advantages of Evangelical support for Israel are worth the theological downside of linking up with people who feel Jews are doomed unless they accept Christ.

There are, of course, other reasons Jews may oppose Obama. Principally, Jews leaning Republican disagree strongly with the administration’s economic policy. They favor a market-based approach also backed by Netanyahu, who once worked with Romney at the Boston Consulting Group.

Citing Israel, Iran and the economy, a number of them will vote for the Republican nominee.

But others should ask themselves this question: If they lived in Israel, would they vote for the conservative Netanyahu? If not, why should they vote for him here?

Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for The Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

At least 3 GOP candidates say war with Iran is an option

Three Republican candidates for president said they would go to war if Iran obtained a nuclear weapon.

Mitt Romney, one of the frontrunners and the former Massachusetts governor, Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania U.S. senator, each said Saturday night that a “credible threat” of war was necessary to contain Iran.

The policy under Presidents Obama and George W. Bush was to say that “nothing is off the table” without specifying a military option.

“The president should have built a credible threat of military action,” Romney said, referring to Obama.

“If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon,” he said.

Gingrich and Santorum agreed that there should be a “credible threat” of military action.

Herman Cain, a businessman who is also a front-runner, said he would support insurgents in Iran and deploy anti-missile ships in the region, but stopped short of military action.

“I would not entertain military opposition,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas.) also was opposed.

Not asked were Texas Gov. Rick Perry, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

Bachmann later accused Obama of “not standing with Israel” at a time that “the table is being set for worldwide nuclear war with Israel.”

Perry said he backed sanctions that would cut Iran’s Central Bank off from the U.S. economy—something that is currently under consideration in Congress.

Perry also said he backed cutting foreign assistance altogether and getting nations to make their case for assistance. When asked if that included Israel, he said “absolutely,” although he predicted that Israel would make a strong case and would receive substantial aid.

His campaign emailed a “clarification” to reporters immediately following the debate.

It repeated Perry’s debate remarks that “Israel is a special ally, and my bet is that we would be funding them at some substantial level” but added: “Gov. Perry recognizes Israel as a unique and vital political and economic partner for the United States in the Middle East.”

The debate, co-sponsored by CBS and National Journal, took place at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. South Carolina is a key early primary state for Republicans.

Gingrich draws rebuke for Nazi comparisons

Newt Gingrich is drawing a rebuke from Jewish groups for labeling political opponents Nazis.

The American Jewish Committee urged the leadership of the Republican Party to condemn the former Speaker of the House for writing in his new book that the Obama administration’s policy agenda is as “great a threat to America as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.”

In promotional media spots for his book, “To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular-Socialist Machine,” Gingrich has talked about the current administration as a “secular socialist machine.” Though he refrained from making a moral comparison between Obama and Nazis, Gingrich warned Sean Hannity on Fox News that “we are going to be in a country which no longer resembles America.”

“Gingrich’s linkage not only diminishes the horror of the Holocuast, it also licenses the use of extremist language in contemporary America,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “It is vital that the Republican leadership say clearly that such analogies are unacceptable. Unfortunately, as the recent controversy over the new immigration law in Arizona also demonstrates, demonizing political opponents as Nazis is becoming all too common in American political debate.”