“Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel,” then-presidential candidate Barack Obama declared in a speech to AIPAC in June 2008.
Four years later, Obama’s views on the Israeli capital seem to have changed. On July 26, just ahead of Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney refused to answer a question from reporters about the administration’s position on Jerusalem.
Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital would be decided in “final status negotiations between the parties,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest explained several days later.
The Romney campaign now hopes to use the White House’s apparent equivocation on Jerusalem to try to mobilize the Republican base and convince Democratic-leaning Jewish voters to change sides.
On Sunday, the Romney campaign aired its first foreign policy television ad, which focused on Israel and on Obama’s apparent refusal “to recognize Jerusalem as its capital.”
The final shot in the 30-second spot shows Mitt Romney standing before Jerusalem’s Old City walls during his visit to Israel last week, saying, “It’s a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.”
The battle over Jerusalem appears to be targeting two key populations in this tight race: Jews and Evangelical Christians.
Jews make up some five percent of the population of Florida, the largest battleground state, and due to high voter turnout, an even larger portion of its likely voters in the fall. Evangelical Christians are a significant portion of the voting public in several battleground states, including Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Colorado.
According to polls, Democrats are a 3-to-1 majority among American Jews, suggesting that Republican ads on Israel are unlikely to shift Jewish votes away from incumbent President Obama. But in a race this close — Obama leads by just 2.8% in a RealClearPolitics average of recent nationwide polls — victory will likely hinge on voter turnout.
The Romney campaign appears to believe that Jews who are angered by the Obama administration’s refusal to name Jerusalem as Israel’s capital may decide to stay home rather than vote for the president. At the same time, the appeal of Jerusalem, a religiously significant symbol for both Evangelicals and Jews, may help mobilize turnout among voters who expressed only lukewarm support for Mitt Romney during the Republican primary.
The Obama campaign has responded to several of the claims made by the Romney campaign, particularly the claim that President Obama has not visited Israel once since becoming president. The Obama campaign noted that George W. Bush had not visited Israel in his first term either, and promised that Obama would visit the Jewish state in a second term. The campaign also noted that Obama has met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nine times.