Turner victory highlights Obama's slippage among Jews

Analysis: Democrat's downfall in NY's 9th district shows US president's waning support among American Jewish community no longer anecdotal.

By
September 14, 2011 20:06
4 minute read.
Bob Turner

Bob Turner 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Up until Tuesday night’s surprise victory of Republican Bob Turner over Democratic David Weprin in the heavily Jewish and Democratic 9th New York Congressional District, news of US President Barack Obama’s waning support among American Jews was largely anecdotal.

Every once in a while stories of traditionally-Democratic Jews articulating deep concern for Obama’s treatment of Israel would appear in the general media or US political websites. There was also the occasional story about Jews who donate large amounts to the Democratic Party saying that as a result of their disenchantment with the White House’s Middle East policies, in the next election cycle they would think twice.

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In addition to the anecdotal evidence, there were also the extrapolatory proofs.

Number-crunchers looked at the exit polls from the 2008 Presidential election that showed that Obama took 78 percent of the Jewish vote, compared that with polls that showed the Democrats took “just” 66% of the Jewish vote in the midterm 2010 election, noted that the president’s approval rating in the summer among Jews was “only” 60%, and concluded that Obama was losing the Jews.

Not all the Jews – not even a majority of the Jews – but enough to make a difference in the 2012 presidential election.

Turner’s victory over Weprin Tuesday showed that this thesis no longer exists only in the anecdotal or extrapolatory realm.

Turner’s victory was the most serious sign of erosion to date in American-Jewish support for Obama; the most serious shot from the Jewish community across the White House’s bow; the most serious message from Jewish voters of concern about the president’s stand on Israel.

And while it is undeniable that Israel was not the only issue in the campaign, it is equally undeniable that it was among the top issues. The other major issue was the economy.

History has shown that as one specific factor, Israel is not enough to drive Jews to vote against a Democratic candidate.

But put Israel together with a faltering economy that is also impacting negatively on America’s Jews, and more Jews than usual may currently be ready to bolt the Democrats than in the past.

New York’s election shows Obama is in trouble with significant swaths of US Jews. To give an indication of how much dissatisfaction there is, keep in mind that New York’s 9th District has not voted for a Republican congressman since 1920, and that Weprin is an Orthodox Jew who is a strong supporter of Israel.

Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary under George W. Bush, said at a panel discussion at the AIPAC conference in May that if Obama wins over the Jews 4:1, as he did last time, he wins the next election; but that if he only takes the Jews 3:1, he’s in trouble.

A shift of a few percentage votes among Jews in 2012 in key battleground states with large Jewish populations such as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, could have a huge impact in a close presidential race.

Some will say that the Jews who live in the Queens and Brooklyn neighborhoods that make up the 9th District that was up for grabs Tuesday – the district that once belonged to disgraced ex-congressman Anthony Weiner – are not reflective of American Jewish demographics: that the Jews there tend to be more religious and more Russian than the national average, which makes them more conservative.

However, the Jewish demographics in southern Florida, where presidential elections have been won and lost before, does reflect to some degree the demographics in Queens and Brooklyn, as many of the Jews in south Florida hail from areas represented in the contested congressional district: Kew Gardens, Forest Hills and Sheepshead Bay.

None of this, obviously, is lost on the Obama administration, which, by appointing an empathetic and sympathetic ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, earlier this year, and hiring veteran Jewish political insider Ira Forman in August as its Jewish liaison, is taking what it has described as its “messaging” problem to the Jewish community very seriously, and trying to correct it.

An indication of how serious the problem is being taken came earlier this week, when the National Jewish Democratic Coalition sent out an e-mail blast highlighting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s warm expression of gratitude to Obama Saturday for what he did to free the six Israeli security guards holed up in the ransacked Israeli embassy in Cairo.

It is safe to say that this email blast – obviously intended to show American Jews how much Obama does care about Israel – made its way into the inbox of thousands of Jewish voters who went to the poll in New York’s special election on Tuesday. Apparently, however, it didn’t make much of a dent.

The lesson is clear: It will take much more from Washington, and many more heartfelt expressions of gratitude from Netanyahu to Obama, to convince a significant part of the American Jewish community that former New York mayor Ed Koch was wrong when, while campaigning for Turner in New York’s 9th District, said Obama “is willing to toss it [Israel] under the bus.”


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