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Can Mitt Romney sway Jewish voters with 'apology tour' quip?

By questioning President Obama's support for Israel, Mitt Romney made an appeal to Jewish voters in Monday's presidential debate. Previous Republicans have failed to make inroads.

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pauses in prayer as he visits the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, during prayers marking Tisha B'Av in Jerusalem's Old City in July 2012. Tisha B'Av, a day of fasting and lament, is traditionally the date in the Jewish calendar on which the First and Second Temples were destroyed, respectively in the sixth century BC by the Babylonians and the first century AD by the Romans.

Jason Reed/Reuters/File

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Perhaps the sharpest exchange in Monday night's presidential debate signaled that, once again, Republicans hope they can peel away crucial Jewish votes from a Democratic presidential candidate. But this time, Mitt Romney appears to think he has fresh cause for optimism.

At one point in Monday's debate, Mr. Romney accused President Obama of taking an “apology tour” in the Middle East while not visiting Israel. Mr. Obama, visibly angry, called the charge, “the biggest whopper that’s been told during the course of this campaign.”

Though the Jewish community is not very large – probably not much more than 2 percent of the total American population – the Jewish vote is important because it is significant in Florida, Nevada, as well as other crucial swing states.

Every four years, the Republicans think they will make inroads with Jewish voters in Florida, says Susan MacManus, a professor at the University of South Florida. “And every four years it does not come to fruition.” Democrats have won at least 76 percent of the Jewish vote in every presidential contest since the Clinton administration.

But Romney's offensive against Obama Monday suggests that he is counting on two things: Not only is he a steadfast supporter of Israel (at a time when the president's commitment to Israel has been questioned), but he is also personal friends with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is trying to remain neutral.

“Historically, no Democrat has been elected to the White House with anything less than 70 percent of the Jewish vote,” says Andrew Polsky, a political scientist at Hunter College in New York and author of the book, “Elusive Victories, the American Presidency at War.”

“What Romney is trying to do is to whittle way at the margin.”

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