Myrtle Beach, South Carolina - In South Carolina, there is an interesting contradiction between the poisonous ads that saturate the airwaves ("Do you know the real Mitt Romney?" – then a quote from Romney's past, when he used to be more moderate than today) - and the pious, humble performances by the candidate as they talk to the conservative audiences.
The style of these primaries, being held in state that since 1980 voted for the candidate who eventually won the GOP nomination, is infamous for being a "bloody sport" - but on Saturday, Newt Gingrich was booed in Charleston for criticizing the millions of dollars Romney made at the equity firm Bain Capital - and at the Convention center in Myrtle Beach, where the five remaining candidates will hold their next debate on Monday, the weekend was dominated by faith and values.
The conservative candidates tried to convince voters that despite what the polls say, the race is not finished yet – that is, if South Carolina votes for principles. Between prayers and posing for photos with candidates, members of the "Faith and Freedom coalition" listened to the best arguments the candidates could bring up - and one can guess Reagan's name was mentioned frequently.
"The question is if the people of South Carolina vote according to their conscience," Senator Rick Santorum said here on Saturday. "The people of South Carolina voted for Ronald Reagan before he was the Ronald Reagan we remember. Because you saw your duty to vote your conscience, what was right for the country - not what the experts said. You saw in Reagan what Reagan could be. You gave him the chance to be the person he is now in history."
Texas governor Rick Perry called the audience to "peek into your heart and find that individual with the record, with the values that represent your heart," reminding them that leaders chosen by God to lead "were all broken people". "Moses, he tried to talk God out of making him lead the people. He wasn't a good public speaker - from time to time I can relate to it," he said to the sound of laughter.
Linda Garner, treasurer of Greenville County at the Republican Party and the first vice-chair of South Carolina Federation of Republican Women, said she came to the convention center because it's the place "to meet all the candidates and hear their views." She cares about each candidate's "values, morals, the experience he has, his take on the military." She is leaning toward Gingrich and Santorum, but she is "very much undecided today".
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".
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