In the end, it wasn’t even close. In a 58 percent Democratic congressional district, the most Jewish congressional district in the country and one that has not voted for a Republican representative since 1922, Republican political newcomer Bob Turner creamed Democrat David Weprin 54 percent to 46 percent in the special election in New York’s 9th Congressional District. Former New York mayor Ed Koch had called the election a referendum on President Obama’s Israel policy. Democratic assemblyman Dov Hikind crossed party lines to endorse Turner and make a point of his dissatisfaction with Obama.
In May, my colleague Greg Sargent, expressing skepticism about Koch’s predictions of a GOP victory, channeled the conventional Democratic wisdom that “it’s hard to believe that Obama’s Israel stance will really cost him a meaningful level of Jewish support.” Well, now in lieu of unreliable polling (of notoriously difficult-to-determine Jewish opinion) we have concrete electoral returns. The message is clear: Association with Obama, even for a pro-Israel Jewish candidate, is toxic.
There were voters, of course, who likely wanted to send a message on other matters. Obama’ job speech was viewed with a high degree of skepticism, if not dismay, among many voters who simply have heard enough about how billions in government spending will create millions of new jobs. They aren’t buying it, and what’s more, they’ve heard quite enough from the president.
There are many with bragging rights today. The Emergency Committee for Israel, which put out some eye-catching ads linking Weprin to Obama, has shown, as it did in the 2008 election, that it can make a splash. ECI made a strong push in the race, highlighting Obama’s Israel policy in TV ads, billboards and even in an ad on the New York Times home page. Bill Kristol, co-founder and chairman of ECI, told me this morning: “Voters in NY-9 — like millions of others across the nation — supported candidate Obama in 2008 in part because they believed his assurances he’d be a pro-Israel president. He hasn’t been. Last night’s results reflect that fact. His administration’s efforts to distance the U.S. from Israel have done nothing but embolden Israel’s enemies.” He continued, “So President Obama has a problem with the American people, who are pro-Israel. It can’t be solved by political rhetoric or patronizing reassurance. If he wants to be thought the friend of Israel he said he’d be, President Obama has to start behaving as one.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition’s executive director, Matt Brooks, was bursting his buttons. His group had announced in early September an “advocacy campaign, with mail pieces going out in the coming days to every Jewish household in New York’s 9th congressional district. The campaign will call on voters to use the special House election on September 13th as an opportunity to send a clear message to President Obama: Enough is enough on Israel.”
Last night Brooks released this statement: “This Republican win in an overwhelmingly Democrat district is a significant indicator of the problem that President Obama has in the Jewish community. While party leaders scramble to deny and try to stem the erosion of Jewish support for Democrats, the real issue is this President’s policies on Israel, on jobs, and on the economy. Jewish voters are coming to see that Republicans offer real solutions to our economic crisis, are resolute friends of Israel, and represent a way forward to a better future. Bob Turner’s win tonight has huge implications for 2012 races in states with large Jewish communities, such as Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.”
We will see how transferrable the themes of this election are in a presidential race, but one can imagine that nothing short of panic is coursing through the halls of the Democratic National Committee and the veins of Obama’s newly appointed Jewish community outreach director, Ira Forman.
Politico reported: “Even before the polls closed, the recriminations – something short of panic, and considerably more than mere grumbling – had begun. On a high-level campaign conference call Tuesday afternoon, Democratic donors and strategists commiserated over their disappointment in Obama. A source on the call described the mood as ‘awful.’ ‘People feel betrayed, disappointed, furious, disgusted, hopeless,’ said the source.” What is especially significant is that Jewish voters now number among the betrayed, disappointed, furious, disgusted and hopeless.
What if, you know, it’s not simply a “messaging” problem for the Democrats? Might it be that the perfect storm — a rotten economy, an incompetent president and an administration uniquely hostile toward the Jewish state and inept in Middle East policy — might actually separate a chunk of the Jewish electorate from its historic fixation with the Democratic Party? Now that remains to be seen, but the signs are pointing in that direction.
Let’s also not forget that it was a clean sweep for the GOP last night. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported on the “blowout” 22-point win by the Republican in the Nevada-2 race:
Fed-up Republican voters fueled Mark Amodei’s special election blowout victory Tuesday over Democrat Kate Marshall, keeping the 2nd Congressional District in GOP hands while shaking up President Barack Obama’s supporters.
“The voters of Nevada have sent a message. The message is, it is time to start a change,” Amodei told 200 supporters at the Eldorado Hotel.
As the LVRJ noted, “The two special elections together suggest a deep discontent with Obama’s economic policies as unemployment remains high — 12.9 percent in Nevada — and debt continues to grow. In 2008, Obama won Nevada handily but is considered vulnerable to defeat in the battleground state in 2012.”
And if Jewish voters start voting like other voters, rather than as a group that is reflexively Democratic no matter how that party performs, then we could finally see the emergence of a new sort of politics within the Jewish community, one in which both parties have to compete for and win the Jewish vote. Now, that’d be something.