The Race for 2012: Jews still support Obama; Romney heads to London; Rick Perry declares war

Obama tries to shore up Jewish support, while poll shows he doesn't have much to worry about

A new gallup poll released today shows that despite recent remarks by President Obama that the 1967 borders should be the starting point in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians -- a position that angered pro-Israel hawks -- most American Jews still approve of the president. His approval rating among American Jews in June averaged 60 percent, down from 68 percent in May (a change that corresponds with declining numbers among other groups, reflecting the president's inflated rating in May, post-bin Laden raid, Gallup said). Thirty-two percent of American Jews disapproved of the president's job in June.

By comparison, Gallup found that his approval rating among all groups in June averaged 46 percent.

The Washington Post reported last week that Obama's team will "go on the offensive against critics of his stance on Israel," with the help of Jewish supporters, including community leader Alan Solow, former Congressmen Mel Levin and Robert Wexler, and business executive Penny Pritzker.  

Obama's supporters say the plan is in effect an acknowledgment that conservative attacks on Obama's Israel stance have made defections among Jewish voters and donors a possibility they must take seriously. Obama's advisers see a need to push back even harder on the attacks than they did in 2008, in part because Obama now has a record on the issue to defend - a record that even Obama's supporters concede has not been adequately explained.

Obama won close to 80 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008. Politico reported last week that some Jewish Democratic Party donors were worried that Obama's stance on Israel could cost him support in 2012 in the Jewish community. 

In its analysis, Gallup challenged the Politico article, saying its conclusions may apply to "certain politically active members of the Jewish-American community," but are "not reflective of the views of Jewish Americans more generally."

Romney heading to London this week to raise money, may meet with PM Cameron

Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney will be in London tomorrow for a fundraiser, where he plans to try and look the statesman by meeting with a senior British official and perhaps the prime minister himself

Romney will meet on Thursday with Peter Ricketts, the national security advisor who will soon become Britain's ambassador to France. According to the Boston Globe, a British official said that David Cameron "planned to drop by that meeting, if his schedule allowed."

A photo with the leader of one of the U.S.'s closest allies couldn't hurt -- given his lack of foreign policy experience. But there has been criticism of Romney raising money in a European capital, especially after attacking Obama for his "awfully European" outlook.

Things haven't gone smoothly with the actual fundraiser planning. Originally booked at the home of Sir Evelyn de Rothschild and his wife, American lawyer Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, the venue had to be moved after Lady Lynn came out as a Jon Huntsman supporter. She held a fundraiser in New York for the former ambassador to China on the day he announced his candidacy in June and called him the "real deal" and "fabulous" in an interview with the Boston Globe.

She had apparently allowed the Romney campaign to use her London home as a favor to a friend, but went on to make some disparaging remarks about the candidate, according to the Globe:

I feel sorry for Mitt Romney.... I think Mitt Romney has the Al Gore problem, which is that he's perfect on paper but he does not connect with people and I don't think there's anything he can do.... And I think his flip-flopping is not a good thing. He's made too many Faustian bargains and we need somebody who stands up for what they believe. I think Obama would roll him.... I don't think he can beat Obama.

The Romney campaign will hold the fundraiser instead at the Dartmouth House, a mansion near Hyde Park.

Gov. Perry declares war on drug traffickers

The Texas governor (who hasn't declared he's running for president yet, but come on...) has deployed the Texas Department of Public Safety -- which includes an air force of more than 20 helicopters and airplanes -- to the Mexican border in "unprecedented numbers," according to an NPR report today, in an effort to more aggressively go after drug cartels crossing the 1,200-mile-long border. Gov. Rick Perry said the 8,000 federal Border Patrol agents working there aren't enough to "seal the border."

He told Fox News recently that Obama's assertion that border security had been strengthened under the president's watch was not true.

"This president either does not know or does not care what is going on on the border of Texas," he said."I don't want the people of the state of Texas to have to be the catalyst that finally gets the administration to understand that there is great terror on our southern border."

The governor's message hasn't gone over well with everyone in his state. The mayor of El Paso told NPR that Perry was just trying to score political points and was playing fast and loose with the facts.

"The governor has twice said that there's been car bombs going off in El Paso, not clarifying that it actually happened in Juarez, Mexico, state of Chihuahua," said Mayor John Cook. "That's their country, that's their side of the border. This is my country, this is my side of the border."

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What’s keeping Mahmoud Ahmadinejad up at night?

Even by Iranian political standards, the last few days have been dramatic. A dozen people close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his cabinet have reportedly been arrested since last week on "financial charges." Then on Wednesday, the embattled president came out swinging more directly and forcefully than he has done before -- warning his enemies to back off.

"I consider defending the cabinet as my duty," he told reporters. "The cabinet is a red line and if they want to touch the cabinet, then defending it is my duty.... From our point of view these moves and pressures are put pressure on the government."

Ahmadinejad is in fact getting pressure from seemingly all corners, including the judiciary, the parliament, and most troubling for sure, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei -- the very man who so publicly placed his eggs in the Ahmadinejad basket two years ago.

The pressure is so bad that the summer of 2011 may make Ahmadinejad wistful for the halcyon days of 2009, when all he had to worry about were a few hundred thousand reformists marching in Tehran, demanding his removal.

Below is a guide to Ahmadinejad's many headaches.

The Supreme Leader

Ahmadinejad is Khamanei's golden boy no longer. The Supreme Leader sent a major signal to the president back in April when a dispute over the sacking of the intelligence minister played out in public. Ahmadinejad forced the minister to resign. Khamanei objected and insisted that he stay on. Ahmadinejad responded by staging a mini-boycott, refusing to come to work for 11 days.

All hell broke loose, said Abbas Milani, an Iran scholar at Stanford's Hoover Institution. 

"Khamanei unleashed all his forces, so to speak," he said. "There was a ferocious attack on Ahmadinejad in parliament." Talk of impeachment intensified, Milani said. Eventually Ahmadinejad came back to work, chastened.

His enemies took notice -- sensing he no longer enjoyed the unwavering support of the Supreme Leader. 

There have even been public indications of a thaw between Khamanei and two other prominent but controversial figures in Iranian society -- former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Seyyed Ahmad Khatami.

Just yesterday, a site close to the Revolutionary Guards and the Supreme Leader did something it hasn't in the past two years since the disputed election -- it referred to Rafsanjani using his honorific, Ayatollah, according to Milani.

Recently, Khatami spoke about the need for forgiveness on all sides in the 2009 presidential dispute, saying both sides have committed mistakes but that they should put it behind them.

The man being left out of this new warmth? Ahmadinejad.

"Khamanei feels isolated," Milani said. If he decided to get rid of Ahmadinejad and bring Rafsanjani back into the fold, he'd get a new boost of clerical support from the men aligned with Rafsanjani.

The Parliament and Judiciary 

Last week, members of parliament actually booed Ahmadinejad -- an act that the Supreme Leader said went too far. The parliament has certainly become emboldened against the president -- launching impeachment proceedings against his foreign minister and rejecting the president's nominee to the newly created (and totally insignificant) post of sports minister.

Meanwhile, the judiciary, which is headed by the brother of the speaker of parliament, has gone after aides and cabinet ministers close to Ahmadinejad.

Critics say Ahmadinejad is trying to groom his controversial chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, to take over for him after his legally mandated two terms are up in 2013 -- a blatant power grab. Mashaei, himself a lightning rod for criticism, has been called everything from a secular nationalist opposed to clerical rule to a "deviant current," who has used spell-casting powers to bewitch Ahmadinejad. He is also hated for saying back in 2008 that Iranians are "friends of all people in the world -- even Israelis."

In both the judiciary and the parliament, things are going to get much worse before they get better for the president, according to Farideh Farhi, a researcher at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.

The chief prosecutor has said there will be more arrests coming. And in the parliament, they are inching closer and closer to impeaching him -- though it's likely Khamanei has given instructions to slow down, at least for now.

The Economy

Ahmadinejad's old foe, the economy, isn't giving him any more comfort these days, despite an upbeat assessment by a recent IMF mission to Tehran, which noted "structural reforms" related to Iran's subsidy program that reduced annual inflation from 25.4 percent in 2008/2009 to 12.4 percent in 2010/2011, according to an IMF press release.  Still unemployment hovers near 15 percent and analysts say the picture is far from rosy.

"There are many, many serious economic problems on the horizon," said Milani. He cited the embargo on trade as having a serious pinch. "And every indication is it's going to get worse."

Ahmadinejad had been able to keep important segments of his constituency happy by doling out healthy subsidies, such as cash payments to the poorest segments of society. But those programs are being cut back, because there's less money to go around.

And some analysts say that as the pie shrinks, the fighting over who gets what slice, is intensifying. The Revolutionary Guards, for example, have a vast business empire that spans the construction, telecommunications, and energy sectors, and gives them financial clout, something they don't want to lose even as Western sanctions targeting their interests continue to pinch harder.

For people looking for someone to blame, Ahmadinejad offers an easy target, due to his past mismanagement of the economy, Milani said.

The neighborhood

Despite the fall of one of Iran's most vocal antagonists in the region -- Hosni Mubarak -- and the ill-fortunes of many others, when Ahmadinejad looks beyond his borders there's not a lot to smile about these days.

The biggest worry is Syria -- Iran's only real ally in the region -- where the regime of Bashar al-Assad is struggling to survive in the face of a massive, and sustained, uprising.

"If Syria goes then they are really left isolated," said Milani.

A second concern is the increasing assertiveness on the part of Sunni Gulf Arab states, which have become more openly united against Iran.

"They are challenging them, because they perceive Iran to be in a weaker position," said Milani.

One example is Bahrain, into which the Saudis sent troops to help the Sunni royal family crush a largely Shiite uprising. If Iran was in a more powerful position, Milani said, they would have raised hell.

All this adds up to a lot of headaches for a man who isn't characteristically prone to self-doubt -- at least not in public. Yet, Ahmadinejad's many chickens seem to be coming home to roost.

"My sense is we are already in a post-Ahmadinejad era," said Farhi. "The question is no longer will he become a Putin-type figure. The question is now whether they will let him stay for two more years or get rid of him sooner."

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