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Mitt's foreign swing: Substance or photo op?

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WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney meets with British officials today on the first leg of campaign visits taking him also to Israel and Poland -- less ambitious than Barack Obama's 2008 pre-election swing through eight countries -- marked by 200,000 curious Germans crowding the Tiergarten in Berlin to hear him speak.

Different trip, different times.

Obama traveled overseas with wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan to show U.S. voters that world leaders would take seriously a 46-year-old in the Senate only 3½ years.

After meeting with then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown -- following stops in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Jordan, Israel, Germany and France -- Obama, standing in front of No. 10 Downing Street, said his trip showed "people at home, but also leaders abroad, some sense of where an Obama administration might take our foreign policy."

"We're not sure it is bad to compare us to Obama in Berlin," a Romney adviser told me.

Romney is on a trip deliberately devoid of fanfare and heavy on photo ops. The Romney campaign knows they need to check off the foreign policy box in a contest that so far has been focused mainly on the economy. Romney does not talk much about international affairs -- or his own experience living in France -- as a young Mormon missionary.

Some of the reasons for the trip: It is to show back home that Romney may not be a Kissinger when it comes to foreign policy -- but he is competent. It is to highlight an important part of Romney's resume -- saving the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Romney will attend the opening ceremonies of the London Summer Olympic games on Friday.

The stop in Israel -- expected to be the high point of the trip -- is also part of the Romney pitch for the Jewish vote, just as it was when Obama toured and met with government and opposition leaders in 2008. Obama also visited Sderot, a town under constant attack from missiles launched from Gaza and Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial. Obama wore a white yarmulke for an early morning visit to the Western Wall.

This will be Romney's fourth trip to Israel and his announced schedule is sparse. Ironically, Romney's Sunday speech in Jerusalem is on Tish B'Av, one of the saddest holidays on the Jewish calendar, observed as a fast day in some Jewish traditions. On Tish B'Av, Jews mourn the destruction of the first and second temples -- hundreds of years apart on the same day.

In 2008, some 70 percent of U.S. Jews backed Obama -- and even if the number dips, Romney is not likely to win a substantial number of Jewish votes, according to folks I talked to who track this. But in a close race in the battleground states with Jewish voters -- Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania -- it's a factor.

What Romney's campaign is not talking about -- and did not put on their schedule -- is that Romney is also doing high-end fund-raising on this trip -- two events in London and one in Jerusalem the Jerusalem Post reported had a $60,000-per-plate price tag.

Romney's foreign policy adviser Lanhee Chen said in a briefing for reporters the point of the trip abroad is to "learn and listen."

"This trip demonstrates Gov. Romney's belief in the worth and necessity of standing with our allies and locking arms with our allies, and that indeed is the common theme binding the United Kingdom, Israel and Poland," Chen said. "Each of these nations shares our love of liberty as well as the fortitude to defend it."

In Poland, Romney will meet with top government officials and Lech Walesa, for former president who guided the nation's path from communism to thriving democracy.

Obama's trip triggered a media frenzy. Romney from the get-go will be overshadowed by the Olympics -- which seems fine with his team.

Robert Gibbs, Obama's former White House press secretary and architect of the 2008 overseas trip, said the public knew where Obama "stood on all the major foreign policy issues of the day" in part because Obama did a lot of interviews with U.S. press on that trip as well as press conferences in Jordan and France.

Gibbs asked if the Romney trip will be "one long photo-op and fund-raising tour."

We'll know soon.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on July 26, 2012 8:49 AM.

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