The defeat of a Democrat in a New York City congressional race is adding to Republican hopes that the party can win the lion’s share of the Jewish vote in Northern New Jersey, and especially in Orthodox Jewish enclaves in Bergen County.
On Tuesday, Bob Turner, a Republican businessman with no prior political experience, handily defeated New York State Assemblyman David Weprin, an Orthodox Jew, in a heavily Jewish and Democratic congressional district which had been previously represented by Rep. Anthony Weiner.
The race was closely watched as a measure of attitudes toward President Obama, with the Jewish vote a particular focus of attention. New York’s 9th Congressional District has the fourth-largest Jewish population of any congressional district; they reportedly make up about a third of the district’s active voters. Democrats also have a strong advantage in voter registration in the district – 57 percent to only 19 percent Republican.
In a campaign message specifically targeting Jewish voters, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat, urged voters to support Turner in order to send a message of dissatisfaction to President Obama over his policies toward Israel.
Presumably, that is what happened on Tuesday. However, the district’s Jewish demographics are somewhat atypical, with sizable concentrations of Orthodox Jews and Russian Jews, who tend to lean more to the right in their voting behavior than Jews in general.
Democrats are suggesting Republicans may have less to cheer about than the results would suggest.
“In this district, there is a large number of people who went to the polls tonight who didn’t support the president to begin with and don’t support Democrats – and it’s nothing more than that,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) told a reporter for The New York Times. Schultz, who heads the Democratic National Committee, was referring to the district’s large concentration of politically conservative charedi Jews.
Their presence in the voter pool does raise the question of the role support for Israel played in the race.
According to a September poll from the Siena Research Institute, 54 percent of the district’s likely Jewish voters said they had an unfavorable view of the president, with only 42 percent viewing him favorably – figures that almost exactly matched the views of the district’s likely voters overall. Yet the Siena poll also showed that only 16 percent of the district’s Jewish voters said that a candidate’s Israel stance would be the most important factor in determining their vote. That is roughly half the proportion (30 percent) who identified the candidate’s position on the economic recovery as their key issue and slightly fewer than the proportion (20 percent) who chose Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs as the top issue.
“One thing we know beyond the shadow of a doubt is that this election was about many things, but not Israel,” said National Jewish Democratic Council President and CEO David A. Harris, citing the Siena Poll results. Moreover, he said, “the two candidates agreed completely on Israel; both clearly supported a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, with not a bit of difference between them.”
In the end, Harris said, the economy was the issue that mattered most.
This seemingly was borne out in exit interviews on Tuesday. The New York Times, for example, quoted a Queens voter, 61-year-old Linda Goldberg, as saying, “I am a registered Democrat, I have always been a registered Democrat, I come from a family of Democrats – and I hate to say this, I voted Republican. I need to send a message to the president that he’s not doing a very good job. Our economy is horrible. People are scared.”
Whether Israel was the key factor in the 9th CD race or the economy was, Republicans in northern New Jersey believe what happened in Brooklyn and Queens can happen here, as well. Bergen County alone has over 100,000 Jews, approximately 15 percent of whom are Orthodox. JTA Wire Service