September 14th, 2011
10:14 AM ET
By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
(CNN) – Republicans jumped on the Democrats’ Tuesday loss of the congressional seat given up by disgraced U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner as a sign of eroding Jewish support for President Barack Obama and his party.
New York’s heavily Democratic 9th Congressional District, centered on Brooklyn and Queens, is one of the most Jewish in the nation, and the Democratic candidate was an Orthodox Jew.
"This Republican win in an overwhelmingly Democrat district is a significant indicator of the problem that President Obama has in the Jewish community,” Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks said after Republican Bob Turner won Tuesday’s special election, an outcome that few had predicted a couple of months ago.
“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,” Brooks said in a statement late Tuesday. "Bob Turner's win tonight has huge implications for 2012 races in states with large Jewish communities, such as Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.”
Turner, a former cable television executive who faced a steep fundraising disadvantage against Democrat David Weprin, framed the race as a referendum on Obama. He continually blasted the president’s posture toward Israel as insufficiently supportive.
Former New York Mayor Ed Koch, a Jewish Democrat, endorsed Turner for Congress, citing Israel as the primary reason.
“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 recently, explaining his endorsement.
At Turner’s Tuesday night victory party, where there was a heavy Orthodox Jewish presence, Koch said: "I like President Obama. ... I helped get him elected.”
"But he threw Israel under the bus," Koch said.
Recent surveys from the Siena College Research Institute suggested that Weprin suffered from a sharp decline in Jewish support over the course of August, with a 21-point lead among Jewish likely voters dwindling to 6 points last week.
Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg said the Democratic candidate's falloff in Jewish support came at the hands of defecting Jewish independents and Republicans. Greenberg estimates that New York’s 9th District is about a quarter Jewish.
A Wednesday polling memo from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did not mention the role of Israel in the New York race, but said that “Republicans used the Karl Rove playbook to scare small, discrete groups of single-issue voters in a low turnout election.”
“For example, Tea Party Republican Bob Turner played on New Yorkers fear and anxiety around the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks,” the memo said. “Turner’s TV ads and mailers included images of the TwinTowers burning and the so-called Ground Zero mosque. Republican outside groups targeted Republican voters, Italian and Irish Catholics, and Orthodox Jews.”
Some Orthodox Jewish rabbis criticized Weprin during the campaign for supporting same-sex marriage as a New York state assemblyman. The National Organization for Marriage, a group opposed to same-sex marriage, spent $75,000 to defeat Weprin, including through mailers to Jewish voters.
“NOM played a major role in this election, helping to organize the Jewish and Hispanic communities to coalesce with Republicans, conservative and other pro-family voters,” the group said in a statement Wednesday. “We mounted the first and largest independent expenditure campaign in the race to make marriage a key issue, and we succeeded.”
A Siena poll earlier this month found that 76% of Jewish likely voters in Weiner’s old 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 Jewish likely voters in New York’s 9th District.
Democrats have traditionally enjoyed overwhelming levels of Jewish support.
Greenberg said 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.”
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 in July.
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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.