The week before the special election in New York’s 9th congressional district, the Democratic National Committee meeting in Chicago focused on three main areas of concern that required improved “messaging” for the 2012 campaign: jobs, health care, and Jewish voters — an odd list to be sure. The Obama campaign hired the former long-time head of the National Jewish Democratic Council, Ira Forman, to help with this third task.
A poll out last week from Gallup suggested that Obama’s approval level in the Jewish community is now 55%, down 5% from the prior survey, with net approval at 15% (55 to 40 — down from 60 to 32, or 28%). This is getting closer to the president’s overall national approval number of just below 44%.
And then came the New York 9 results. In a district that is believed to have the highest percentage of Jewish population to total population of any of the 435 congressional districts, the Republican candidate, Bob Turner, won the special election — the first GOP winner in this district since 1922. The district has been redesigned every ten years after a new redistricting plan was adopted, and a portion of the district that is in Queens was represented by a Republican as recently as the 1960s. But it is safe to say that New York 9 has been a Democratic seat for a long time, usually with big margins for the Democratic nominee (22% for Anthony Weiner in 2010, a good GOP year nationally).
Various writers last week estimated the Jewish percentage of the population in New York 9 at a level as low as 25%, and as high as 40%. The defeated Democratic candidate, David Weprin, estimated a level in the middle of this range, at a third of the district’s population, with Orthodox Jews a third of the Jewish population.
Since voters do not register their religion and ballots are secret, estimates of how Jews voted on Tuesday is guesswork. The Brooklyn section of the district, which is estimated to have a higher Jewish percentage and a higher Orthodox Jewish percentage than the district as a whole, voted about 2 to 1 for Turner, while Weprin won a much smaller majority (about 5%) in the larger Queens portion of the district. Overall, it appears that Turner may have won a small majority of all Jewish voters.
Democratic elected officials and party leaders were quick to dismiss the results, claiming that New York 9 is not representative of the national Jewish population. The message not stated in this dismissal of the results was that this district has too many Orthodox Jews, and presumably the real Jews who matter (liberal, secular Jews) are still firmly in the Democratic camp. One Jewish congressman, Henry Waxman from California, went off-script, however, arguing that Jewish voters more broadly (and not just Orthodox Jews) are shifting allegiances because they misunderstand President Obama’s Israel policies (hence, these Jews are stupid and easily misled) and because they want to protect their wealth (imagine that!).
Leave it to a Jewish congressman to feed a centuries-old stereotype of the greedy Jew.