How did Republican Bob Turner pull off an 8-point win (54%-46%) in a district that gave Turner just 39% of the vote in 2010 and went 55% for Obama in 2008? Sure, it helped that the Democratic incumbent Anthony Weiner resigned in disgrace after he accidentally posted a lewd photo of himself, intended for a young woman, to his public Twitter account. But scandal alone wasn't enough to flip New York's 9th congressional district to Republicans. In early August a Siena poll showed Democrat David Weprin leading Turner 48% to 42%, but by late last week Siena showed Turner had pulled into the lead 50% to 44%.
To win in a Democratic district, Turner needed Democratic votes. The two issues that seem to have helped drive some of the district's traditionally Democratic voters to cast their ballots for Turner were Obama's Israel policy and Weprin's vote for same-sex marriage. Former Democratic New York City mayor Ed Koch endorsed Turner primarily to send a message to Obama on Israel. Democratic state senator Ruben Diaz backed Turner because of Weprin's vote on marriage. Democratic state assemblyman Dov Hikind says both issues, as well as dissatisfaction with Obama's failed economic policies, were "overriding" factors that led him to support Turner.
"This is an underlying issue that is an extremely powerful issue," Hikind says of Weprin's vote for same-sex marriage. Weprin didn't merely vote for the bill. He got on the floor of the assembly and compared voting against same-sex marriage to "outlawing marriages between Jews and non-Jews or interracial marriages.”
"The fundamental message was 'I'm an orthodox Jew and gay marriage is perfectly fine,'" Hikind says of his Democratic colleague's speech. "To me, when he did that, he crossed every single line." Forty orthodox rabbis declared that orthodox Jews could not support Weprin.
"I can tell you this is a real serious issue among Jews, among orthodox Jews, among Catholics," Hikind says. A PPP poll from last week showed that 29% of voters in the district said marriage is "very important," and a plurality (45% to 41%) said same-sex marriage should be "illegal."
Opposition to Obama's Israel policy was even higher in the district. The PPP poll showed that 37% of voters said Israel is a "very important" issue in determining their vote, and voters disapproved of Obama's Israel policy 54% to 30%. "The well-being of Israel is extremely important to voters," Hikind says.
The Emergency Committee for Israel ran an ad saying that it's impossible to be both pro-Israel and pro-Obama. Weprin felt cross-pressured on the issue. “Will I eventually support Obama on his reelection? Probably," Weprin said in a recent interview. "Do I disagree with him on his Israel policy? Absolutely. I will probably not refuse to endorse him because I think I will be more effective by supporting him but at the same time being very strongly against him on some of his policies.”
Hikind said he viewed the race as "an opportunity to send a crystal clear message straight to the White House, straight to Barack Obama, straight to the Democratic party that we as Democrats are extremely, extremely unhappy."
Yesterday, the Democratic New York City district sent a Republican to Congress for the first time since 1922. But it's not clear that the Democratic party got the message. DNC chair Debbie-Wasserman Schultz claimed that "it’s a very difficult district for Democrats." Perhaps privately she and the president know that it's only a difficult district for Democrats because the Democratic party's policies have alienated many Democrats.