Monday, September 12, 2011


By now I'm resigned to a Republican pickup in Anthony Weiner's old district:

Republican Bob Turner is poised to pull a huge upset in the race to replace Anthony Weiner as the Congressman from New York's 9th Congressional District. He leads Democrat David Weprin 47-41....

That's Public Policy Polling's assessment, and I suppose it's no surprise. We can focus on President Obama's unpopularity in the district --

Obama won 55% there in 2008 but now has a staggeringly bad 31% approval rating, with 56% of voters disapproving of him.

-- and I know that some people have ascribed that to racism, given the fact that Al Gore won 67% of the vote in the district in 2000, 12 points more than Obama eight years later. But John Kerry got 56% of the vote there in 2004, a more or less identical total to Obama's. What's changed since 2000 (besides the economic downturn, obviously)? Well, since 2000, an attack on New York City by Islamists. NY-9 has the fourth-largest Jewish population of any congressional district in America (PDF). So don't look at the massive Democratic registration advantage in the district and assume that the voters are monolithically liberal or moderate. On Middle East issues and Israel, a lot of voters around these parts are far more in sync with neocons than with liberals, even if they're traditionally Democratic otherwise. (Anthony Weiner knew this and was an unswerving defender of Israel.) Not for nothing is Israel referred to around here as "the sixth borough."

Former mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat who was Joe Lieberman before Lieberman was, bashing liberals every chance he got and frequently cozying up to the right -- he'd go on to endorse George W. Bush in 2004 -- declared David Weprin a foe of Israel months ago, while throwing his support to the Republican. This was followed up by a Turner TV ad attacking Weprin for supporting the right of the planners of the Park51 project to build the so-called "Ground Zero mosque," an attack reinforced in a recent mailer sent out by the Turner campaign.

And, well, gosh, there it is, according to PPP:

The issue of Israel does appear to be having a major impact on this race. A plurality of voters- 37%- said that Israel was 'very important' in determining their votes. Turner is winning those folks by an amazing 71-22 margin. With everyone who doesn't say Israel is a very important issue for them Weprin actually leads 52-36. Turner is in fact winning the Jewish vote by a 56-39 margin, very unusual for a Republican candidate. This seems to be rooted in deep unhappiness with Obama on this issue- only 30% of voters overall approve of how he's handling Israel to 54% who disapprove and with Jewish voters his approval on Israel is 22% with 68 of voters disapproving. That has a lot to do with why Turner's in such a strong position.

At this point I'm sure everyone in the district for whom this is an important issue thinks Obama has a radically anti-Israel view of what should be the basis for peace negotiations with the Palestinians, whereas, in fact, what Obama says about borders and land swaps is perfectly mainstream, as Jeffrey Goldberg, hardly an Israel-basher, acknowledges.


On the other hand, this race very much resembles the special Senate race in Massachusetts after Ted Kennedy's death. And it leads me to think that the problem is the Democratic Party. The party looks at demographics in seemingly safe districts and states and just assumes that a middling, plodding candidate ought to be able to win no matter what, without a fight.

And that might be the case -- if the Democratic Party brand were stronger.

It's all starting to remind me of one of those reality-TV series in which the host goes to a restaurant or a beauty salon where the owners have let everything go to seed, and yet they wonder why they're losing customers. Democrats can't just appeal to the public in a halfhearted way; they can't expect people to show up because they always have. Democrats need to spruce the joint up. They need to do a better job preparing and serving what's on the menu. They need to give people an ongoing reason to be repeat customers.

The policy differences between the parties have to be clear to ordinary voters. The benefits of voting Democratic, and the dangers from voting Republican, have to be clear. Then elections won't turn on mosque construction, or who seemingly insulted the Red Sox in Massachusetts, or whatever.