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Following Bono's Lead in N.H.

Mitt Romney caught some flak in conservative circles when he was quoted this month telling an Iowa audience that the U.S. should learn from the popular social service functions of groups like Hezbollah and invest more in delivering medical services abroad to build goodwill and weaken the hold of extremists.

But it turns out the former Massachusetts governor may just have been practicing smart politics. A poll of New Hampshire voters released yesterday found that voters in both parties -- even the Granite State's famously penny-pinching conservatives -- are open to presidential candidates making a case for a surge in spending on foreign aid.

The poll, of 1000 likely primary voters, was conducted by ONE Vote 08, a $30 million effort that is funded in large part by Bill Gates and linked to the ONE Campaign of U2's Bono, and intended to make global poverty and global health a major issue in the 2008 presidential race. It found that 70 percent of Republicans believe that the America's standing has suffered in recent years; that 70 percent of Republicans agree that reducing poverty, treating preventable diseases and improving education in poor countries will make the world safer and the U.S. more secure; and that 67 percent of Republicans believe that it is important for presidential candidates to discuss their plans for addressing global hunger and poverty. (The percentages were not surprisingly even higher among Democratic voters.)

While it might seem as if many voters would find it hard to admit themselves uninterested in fighting global poverty, those advising the ONE Vote 08 campaign said they see real significance in the figures.

"The numbers make a compelling case for a sea change in the way the electorate is thinking about how we address these issues," said former Clinton spokesman Mike McCurry, in a conference call with reporters. "Instinctively, many Americans see that this would be a smart thing to do."

And notably, this goes for Republican voters too, said Tucker Eskew, who oversees global communications strategy for the Bush Administration. "It's in our enlightened self interest, and I believe Republican candidates will enunciate on that and lead on it in the months ahead," he said.

--Alec MacGillis

By Washington Post editors  |  August 10, 2007; 2:11 PM ET
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