Dems schvitzing over NY-9 results
Dems schvitzing over NY-9 results
Democrats awoke Wednesday to a disturbing new political reality — a world in which the Jewish vote couldn’t be taken for granted anymore. And in the wake of a New York City special election where a Republican won in the heart of urban Jewish Democratic power, the stunning outcome has set off alarms that President Barack Obama’s chilly relationship with Israel could jeopardize the party’s hammerlock on a key constituency.
With the issue threatening to erupt again next week when Palestinians seek recognition of statehood at the United Nations—something the Obama administration is vigorously working to stop—Democratic lawmakers are demanding that the White House rework the sales pitch of its Israel policy.
“He has to be very clear that whatever his Middle East policies are, it’s in the context of strong, robust support for the State of Israel and its security,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who represents a seat in suburban Washington, D.C. “He’s allowed that to be a little fuzzy.”
“He has created some of the problems he’s now having, in terms of the way he’s been clumsy in some of the events that he’s handled, particularly his remarks,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, a Jewish Democrat from California who recently met with Vice President Joe Biden about the administration’s Israel policy. “That’s difficult to overcome, but I have confidence he’ll be able to overcome it.”
Before the results in New York began rolling in, veteran Rep. Elliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said the race got close because “people have not been happy with the president’s Israel policy.”
“We have all had some difficulties with things coming out of the administration vis a vis Israel,” Engel said. “We have, and we’ve been telling [the administration] this: They’ve done a lot of good things with Israel – the iron dome, the defense to help Israel ward off the rocket attack – but we’ve been telling them, maybe this will be a little bit of a wake-up call for the administration, too.”
Engel said Wednesday that the election should serve as a “big alarm” for a party accustomed to relying on Jews as a voting bloc.
The issue also promises to play out next year in numerous congressional districts with sizable Jewish populations, especially in south Florida, California, Pennsylvania, New York and Illinois.
“Clearly the president has severe problems with Jewish voters, and the president’s record on the U.S.-Israel relationship has helped caused those problems for him,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in the House, told POLITICO.
Freshman Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), who unseated a Jewish Democratic incumbent last year in a district that includes parts of Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale, thinks Jewish voters are starting to break the GOP’s way.
“Right now, one of the things that the Jewish community is asking themselves, you have all of these members on the Democrat side that are Jewish, look at what’s happening with Israel, and the embassy, with Egypt attacking it,” West said. “They’re looking for people that will stand out, and have strong, convicting voices.”
Democratic strategists hope that the unique demographics of the Queens- and Brooklyn-based district that elected Republican Bob Turner to Congress Tuesday make the result an anomaly: It has a heavy concentration of Orthodox Jews who typically vote Republican anyway and the Democratic candidate, state Assemblyman David Weprin, had cast a vote earlier this year in favor of same-sex marriage that alienated some in the Orthodox community.
Rep. Nita Lowey, a Democrat who represents nearby Westchester County, blamed former New York City Mayor Ed Koch for the tight race — he urged Jewish voters to send the Obama administration a message by voting against Weprin.
Concern among Democrats was palpable in the race’s closing days, as polls showed Jewish voters breaking away from the party. A Public Policy Polling survey on the eve of the election found 37 percent of voters calling Israel “very important” in determining their votes, and Turner led among those respondents by a massive 49-percentage-point margin.
“What it does indicate is there are some serious problems with messaging to the Jewish community from the administration,” said Arnold Linhardt, a New York Democratic strategist who works on Jewish outreach.
Republicans, who have seen their share of the Jewish vote in presidential elections gradually double from about 10 percent in 1992 to about 20 percent in 2008, expressed optimism that the party is on the verge of capturing an even more significant chunk.
“National Republicans will never win the Jewish vote in my lifetime, but they can certainly make inroads that spell peril for Barack Obama,” said former George W. Bush White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who closely followed the New York race. “At the national level, Democrats need to win the Jewish vote 4-to-1. If they win it only 3-to-1, it’s a huge problem for them.”
Recent reports of a Democratic National Committee session on messaging to Jewish voters are only emboldening Republicans.
“That’s like the equivalent of if the Utah Republican Party had to have a session on messaging to Mormons,” said Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks. “There’s no clearer sign that they’re panicking.”
Even if the president’s problem is mainly about message, rather than substance — making clear, for example, that Obama’s reference to returning Israel to 1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps wasn’t a departure from previous policy — some Republicans still think the threats facing Israel will continue to drive voters toward the GOP.
“Jews have shown an instinctual, practically genetic reflex to vote for Democrats, in a way that as an observant Jew has mystified me my entire life,” said Ken Kurson, a GOP strategist who has worked on Jewish outreach for congressional candidates. “But the only time that reflex has been seriously challenged is when the existence of the Jewish homeland is seriously threatened. We’re seeing that now.”