WATCH: Faith - and occasionally Israel - play central role in Bible Belt
No matter where Republicans travel across the state, 'faith', 'values', and the Jewish state become unavoidable hot-button issues.
One week ahead of the vote in South Carolina, the first southern state to hold primary, the Republican presidential candidates (except for Ron Paul, a veteran politician who has run several presidential campaigns, who went home to Texas to take a break) are working hard to get the votes. The conservatives feel it might be their last chance to hinder Mitt Romney's victorious ride, and this weekend, they held town halls, one debate organized by former presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, and visited churches. But no matter where they went, "faith" and "values" were the central topic of the speeches and discussions.
One should not be surprised - driving along the roads, signs reading "Jesus saves", "hell is real", "God knows the way, pray, America, pray" are everywhere. Israel occasionally becomes a hot-button issue.
On Sunday, Governor of Texas Rick Perry visited Georgetown in South Carolina, where among the hugging, shaking hands, taking pictures with local residents, visiting businesses and petting at least two dogs, he was asked by a local resident to take a picture with her and her Israeli flag.
Perry told Haaretz that upon becoming president, he will "stand by Israel every day", while Linda Harper, housewife from Georgetown, said that she will vote for Perry because she believes "he'll bring blessing to Israel." Harper also promised to take the flag to every candidate who will visit the town before the January 21 primary.
According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, 37 percent of South Carolina Republican voters back Romney, while Congressman Ron Paul and former Senator Rick Santorum are tied for second place with 16 percent support.
Gingrich, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, has fallen far back after holding a strong lead in South Carolina in December. He was in fourth place at 12 percent in the poll.
Garner has no problem with claims that Gingrich's past adulteries have taint his character. "That doesn't bother me at all", she says, adding that what's important is "what we have today", and that he is "extremely brilliant, he knows what to do and he has the experience".
When I ask Floyd and Laurel Swilley, Myrtle Beach residents who just finished their breakfast, what they thought of the candidates, Laurel says she was impressed by Santorum. Her husband adds that his numbers in the polls do not bother him - "King David was a shepherd".
He says he believes the Mormon faith has "has some very strong values, many similar to those of Christianity, but I think our faith has to be based upon the Judeo-Christian religions." "I am kind of Newt guy, but I liked what Rick Santorum said", Floyd concludes.
When asked if the presidential candidates must support Israel, Floyd says: "Absolutely. It's our finest ally, it's the God chosen people, and anyone who goes against Israel goes against God."
Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and a radio host, makes a fiery speech focused on the Middle East, the Arab Spring – and the Obama administration's failure to address the challenges. He tells Haaretz that he thinks Obama's mention of the 67' borders was intentional and dangerous "because it puts Israel in a situation that's impossible to deal with." "What he really meant was returning to pre-67' borders," he said, "and it's indefensible. The president was thinking that he was going to be able to woo the Islamic world, to engage them. I think it's intentional, I don't think it was naïve."
When asked why the issue of Israel is so important at a time when the economy has become a major concern, he says: "To ignore Israel in the presidential election of this magnitude is to ignore reality. Number one, it's the most crucial ally, Number two, it's the only stable ally in the region, and number three, it's the region we are dependent upon. So we just can't take Ron Paul's approach of ignoring reality. The reality is that Israel is in a very difficult situation. The U.S. is an ally, we have to stand by it".