Polish jokes aside, there are a number of good reasons why Mitt Romney would want to visit the very invisible European mini-power and NATO member. Don’t sleep on it. For one, it’s just one more indication that Republicans have multiple pathways to victory … the only problem is they’re all pretty much really, really White. That’s problematic when going up against an incumbent that can rely on cobbling together a number of diverse cultural outlets: Black, Hispanic, LGBT, women, etc. and even a bit of the White vote, too.
However, that won’t stop the Romney campaign from nibbling away at ethnic White enclaves and voters in key states, particularly where Polish voters account for anywhere from 7 to 10 percent of the electorate. These include places like Pennsylvania, Michigan (Romney’s homeland) and Wisconsin. On one level, Romney has to give a nod to Michigan, where Poles are one of the top four ethnic European demographics in the state. But, there are large portions of Poles in Pennsylvania and elsewhere and they are sure to appreciate the candidate fist bumping their ancestral homeland. At the moment, it’s something President Obama has not done, marking a fairly testy relationship between the current Administration and a restless Poland looking for clout.
The foreign policy benefits are a bit limited, but Romney probably represents – minus the election – the first in what will later become a very public wave of U.S. support a strong buffer country against an unpredictably mean-streaking Russia. As it turns out, Poland is ranked 22nd globally in military expenditures. Noted geopolitical analyst George Friedman predicts Poland will become a world power by the middle of the century.
President Obama’s predecessor Bush made many a reference to Poland as a solid member of “the Coalition of the Willing” during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. But, that was also part of a complex play against a resurging Russia, including Poland’s acceptance into NATO. It was also a signal to American businesses and investors that the former Soviet Warsaw Pact country was becoming an emerging investment to keep an eye on. After all, it’s the sixth largest economy in the European Union and by 2010 it had a nearly 4% growth rate. Not bad – and, quite attractive for a former Bain capitalist like Romney.
There’s more to it, however, than just Polish vote perks and a likely partner in the quiet post-Cold War Cold War against Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Nearly 90% of the Polish population is devoutly Roman Catholic, another blatant play the GOP is making for Catholic votes from the contraceptives controversy to continuing flaps over abortion and the much-hyped “War on Women.”
But, Poland is also ranked 16th among the Top 20 countries with significant Jewish populations. That Romney would make stops in both Poland and Israel says much about the campaign’s rather exceptional and formidable acknowledgement of Jewish history. The country holds a very deep and heartfelt place in the Jewish Diaspora’s heart since it contained one of the largest and most active pockets of European Jews before their tragic near-extermination during the Holocaust in World War II.
This is where the Obama re-election campaign should be worried. While poking fun at “Romney’s gaffes” and downplaying the meaning of his ethnic White tour, smarter Democrats should be playing careful attention to the Republican candidate’s overtures to Jewish voters. They may constitute only 3 percent of the U.S. population, but they are solidly congregated in key states like Pennsylvania, Florida, New York and elsewhere. What they don’t have in solid electoral numbers they more than make up for in fundraising. And Democrats have had problems wooing Jewish donors as the perception of an unfriendly President Obama who chides Israel in favor of Palestinian interests is growing. A hawkish Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu now has Romney to thank for the very sudden and very obvious White House appropriation of $70 million to the country’s missile defense system.
While not a Missy Franklin win by any stretch, Romney’s tour became the first shot in the war for the Jewish vote. His recent comments regarding Jewish cultural supremacy may have been a bit over the top, but the sentiment is nothing new. It’s a war that should have the current President concerned.