Follow The Yellow Brick Road

The road to the White House goes through Jerusalem.  At least it seems that way as the Israeli capital has become a virtually mandatory stop for politicians of both parties running for president.  The latest arrival is Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley this week, accompanied by a bevy of business execs and Jewish community leaders from his state.

This was not O’Malley’s first visit to Israel; he’s led trade missions there in the past. This time he has a unique twist, a meeting with former Silver Spring, MD, resident Dov Lipman, a freshman Knesset member from Yesh Atid.  O’Malley presented Lipman, a self-described “son of Maryland,” with a Washington Redskins jersey with the number 10 and name of the team’s star player, Robert Griffin III.  Lipman will co-chair the Maryland-Israel Advisory Board, which promotes trade, cultural and other exchanges between the Free State and the Jewish state.

Trade missions are a popular vehicle for governors looking for business for their states, as well as for photo ops and media coverage. Especially if they have visions of the White House dancing in their heads.

The Israelis know how to flatter visiting American politicians, especially presidential wannabes.  And if they manage to win the nomination, they get the full treatment.  That’s what happened to GOP candidate Mitt Romney last year, complete with a virtual endorsement from Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.   It’s too early for that for 2016, but the parade is underway.

Senators Barack Obama (D-Illinois) and John McCain (R-Arizona) visited Israel prior to their 2008 election face-off.  Obama returned as President earlier this year and McCain has made several trips.

2016 presidential wannabes have already begun making the ritual pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), who claims to be a friend of Israel despite his desire to cut or eliminate foreign aid, went in January followed a month later by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who toasted PM Netanyahu with water bottles. Sen. Kirstin Gillebrand (D-New York), who jump in if her Senate predecessor, Hillary Clinton, doesn’t run, went this month.

Several other senators have also visited this year, some running for reelection and some may have yet-to-be revealed presidential ambitions:  Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire), Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), Christopher Coons (D-Delaware) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina).

Not all visiting pols are running for president.  Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper was there earlier this month on what his office said was a personal visit. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie went last year and insisted he wasn’t interested in the White House.  But don’t count him out.  Meanwhile, keep checking on politicians visiting to Israel.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.