WASHINGTON -- Republican presidential contenders took a brief respite from canvassing early battleground states Wednesday to court Jewish activists and donors, with Newt Gingrich reveling in his newfound status as a front-runner and Rick Perry trying to clarify his stance on aid to Israel.

At the forum, hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition, Gingrich, like the other five candidates in attendance, denounced the Obama administration's Middle East policy.

Gingrich caused a stir by pledging to name John Bolton, the outspoken former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as his secretary of state should he win the presidency.

He also promised, if elected, to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Perry tried to paper over remarks he made last month during a debate on foreign policy in South Carolina where he said that every nation that receives aid from the United States would have to start at "zero" and make a case for U.S. support -- including Israel.

On Wednesday, Perry said he would increase U.S. assistance to Israel, not reduce it.

Mitt Romney, who was warmly received by the crowd and who enjoys the support of prominent Jewish donors in the Northeast, lambasted President Barack Obama for adopting a foreign policy of "appeasement" that "betrays a lack of faith in America."