September 13th, 2011
01:36 PM ET
By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
(CNN) – Tuesday’s special election to replace scandalized New York Rep. Anthony Weiner is happening in one of the most Jewish and most Democratic congressional districts in the country, but the frontrunner is neither a Democrat nor Jewish.
The race for New York’s 9th Congressional District has attracted national attention because polls give Republican candidate Robert Turner an edge, a potential sign of trouble for President Barack Obama and for the Democrats ahead of next year’s election.
Adding to the surprise over Turner’s apparent lead in the Brooklyn and Queens-centered district is that his Democratic opponent, David Weprin, is an Orthodox Jew.
Some have speculated that Weprin’s unexpectedly uphill race is a reflection of Jewish discontent with Obama’s stance on Israel.
In a Siena College Research Institute survey from earlier in September, Weprin, a New York State assemblyman who has a significant fundraising advantage over Turner, held a 51-45% lead among likely Jewish voters. The same poll found that 76% of likely Jewish voters in the district said the country is headed in the wrong direction and that just 42% had a favorable view of Obama.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, enjoyed a 76% approval rating among likely Jewish voters in New York’s 9th District.
Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg says Welprin’s 6-point lead over Turner among likely Jewish voters is down from a 21-point lead in early August, with almost all of the dropoff in support coming among Jewish Republicans and Independents.
Greenberg, who estimates the 9th District is about one-quarter Jewish, says that Obama is suffering among Democratic voters more broadly and that “Jewish voters are no different than all the voters in the district.”
In a May speech, Obama said that Israel's 1967 borders should be a starting point for peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and land swaps, provoking criticism from some Jewish leaders.
But a July poll from Gallup found that Obama had a 60% job approval rating among Jewish Americans, and that the speech was "not a watershed in Jewish views toward Obama.”
Former New York Mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat who has supported Republican candidates in the past, endorsed Turner for Congress.
“My support for Mr. Turner is intended to send a message to President Obama that he cannot throw Israel under the bus with impunity,” Koch wrote, explaining his decision.
The New York Times suggested that Turner, a former cable television executive, has also been buoyed by conservative Jewish discomfort with same-sex marriage, which Weprin supports.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut and an Orthodox Jew, endorsed Weprin over the summer and came to his defense on Israel.
"While David Weprin can be counted on to fight for the safety and security of the State of Israel, we can also rely on him to protect the seniors and working families of Brooklyn and Queens," Lieberman said at a July press conference.
Another sign of potential Democratic struggles with Jewish voters: the Democratic National Committee held a session on “Jewish messaging” at its recent meeting in Chicago.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.