Commentary Magazine


Oy, Such Tsuris for Obama and the Democrats

We’ve been writing here all week about the stunning possibility that a conservative Republican named Bob Turner will upset a liberal Democrat named David Weprin in the special election Tuesday to fill Anthony Weiner’s Brooklyn/Queens district, which has a 3-to-1 Democratic registration advantage. It’s the most Jewish district in the country, and a great many of its Jews are religious Jews. In choosing Weprin to run for the seat, Democrats thought the fact that he sports a kippah would carry the day with his fellow Orthodox Jews.

It’s not happening that way, and even the notion that it would testifies to the ignorance of pols, including Jewish pols, who think religious Jews are like other ethnic voters.Weprin may be an Orthodox Jewish Democrat, but as such he is now actually in the minority among Orthodox Jews. And the commonality of their religious practice apparently does not provide sufficient cover for his being a representative of the Democratic party in the age of Obama.

The one thing we have been able to determine over the past 20 years is that the more “Jewish” you are—meaning the more you attend synagogue, the more you keep kosher, the more you send your kids to day school and Jewish camp, and the more you commit yourself to living a Jewish life with some fealty to the rules of the religion—the less politically liberal you are likely to be. Owing to Anthony Weiner’s foolhardiness, we are now getting a real-world test of this proposition in the one district in the country where it can actually be tested.

There has been a lot of talk about Israel in the race, with Weprin desperately attempting to make the case that he will be a stalwart spokesman for Israel and hold Barack Obama’s feet to the fire on the subject. Indeed, the Emergency Committee for Israel has just released a puckish commercial called “The Uniter” about the attacks on Obama emanating from all sides in the race.

Even if Weprin ekes out a win on Tuesday, the dynamic of the race conclusively proves that Obama does indeed have a Jewish-vote problem—among Jews whose Judaism is intertwined with their daily lives. And he also has a problem among elderly Jews, who also populate the district and are rather less religious—but who are unabashedly Zionist and evidently deeply troubled by Obama’s handling of Israel.

It’s not that the district has become hostile to Democratic politicians. The Siena poll released today that shows Turner with a 6 point lead (representing a staggering 12-point shift in his direction over the past two weeks) also shows wild enthusiasm for New York’s new governor, Andrew Cuomo (who has, with the exception of gay marriage, basically followed the Chris Christie model of governance).

Turner has cannily designed his campaign around the notion that a vote for him sends a message to Obama. If he wins, you’ll hear a lot of people saying he won because he was a good candidate and Weprin a bad one. Both statements are true as is the statement that the results of a special election created due to a sex scandal are not determinative.

But it sure doesn’t mean nothing. It means something not good for Obama. And it will indicate something very, very interesting about the Jewish vote and a trendline for the future.

Actually, it already has.