Friday, September 16, 2011

Is Obama the new Carter for Jewish voters?

Richard Baehr

Try as they might, Democratic Party officials and liberal pundits will have trouble spinning the disastrous results for their Party in the two U.S House special electionson Tuesday in New York State and Nevada.

The results may also be the first bit of hard evidence that the President’s troubled relations with Israel may be costing him politically . n Nevada 2, in a contest for a seat that had been held by a Republican who was appointed to a vacant U.S. Senate seat , the GOP candidate Mark Amodei won by 22% in a district that Barack Obama had lost by only 1% in 2008. The district encompasses pretty much all of Nevada outside of Las Vegas. Nevada is a swing state in the presidential race, and has near 13% unemployment, the highest rate in the country. Suddenly the state’s six Electoral College votes, that seemed to lean towards Obama in 2012 (he won the state by 12% in 2008), seem far less secure for the Democrats. Nevada has one of the fastest growing Jewish populations in the country, centered in the Las Vegas area. A drop-off in Jewish support for the President in 2012 would hurt him in Nevada, as well as other tossup states, such as Florida and Pennsylvania.

The “Revenge of the Jews” as Matt Drudge called the results in New York 9 helped produce a stunning outcome there. The district was once represented by former Vice Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, later by Senator Chuck Schumer, and most recently by the disgraced sex tweeter Anthony Weiner, and has been in Democratic hands for nearly 90 years. The district with sections in Brooklyn and Queens, has the highest percentage of Jewish population of any of the 435 Congressional districts in the country, variously estimated at between 25% and 40%. The Jewish population in the district is somewhat different from the average high percentage Jewish Congressional district. New York 9 contains more Orthodox Jews and more Russian Jews, and as a result, has not historically been as lopsidedly liberal in its orientation and Democratic voting as other districts with large Jewish populations.

But even with that caveat, it appears that many voters, and many Jewish voters used the special election to register their unhappiness with President Obama, and in particular, on his policies towards Israel. The winning candidate, 70 year old Republican businessman Bob Turner, (the former producer of the Jerry Springer Show), appears to have captured a majority of the Jewish vote in the election. He won by 8% overall, and ran best in the Brooklyn areas, which are most heavily Jewish. The Democrat, David Weprin, an Orthodox Jew, campaigned as a strong supporter of Israel, as did Turner, and was critical of the President and his policies towards Israel. On this count, the two candidates were in agreement. But when Ed Koch, the former Democratic Mayor of New York City, and Dov Hikind, another Democratic elected official with strong ties to the Jewish community, endorsed Turner, and asked Jews to send a message to Washington, it was pretty clear who the recipient of that message was to be. In one poll conducted just before the election, among voters who considered Israel an important issue, they planned to vote for the Republican candidate by more than a 3 to 1 ratio.

One Jewish U.S House member, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida said the district was not very friendly to Democrats. That statement was laughable. Weiner won his last race in 2010, a bad year for Democrats in general, by 22%. Obama carried the district by 11% in 2008. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by 3 to 1.

California Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman, offered a nastier explanation:

"I think Jewish voters will be Democratic and be for Obama in 2012, especially if you get a Republican candidate like [Texas] Gov. [Rick] Perry," he said. "But there's no question the Jewish community is much more bipartisan than it has been in previous years. There are Jews who are trending toward the Republican Party, some of it because of their misunderstanding of Obama's policies in the Middle East, and some of it, quite frankly, for economic reasons. They feel they want to protect their wealth, which is why a lot of well-off voters vote for Republicans."

In one sentence, Waxman manages to offend his fellow Jews twice: accusing them of greed (not favoring Obama’s redistribution policies), and also not being bright enough to understand that Obama is really pro-Israel.

In the New York 9 race, Democrats outspent the Republicans in the run-up to the election on Tuesday by near 10 to 1. Union members were on the streets trying to pull Weprin to victory. The Democrats had the money and the ground game but it was all for naught.

For sure, Israel was not the only issue in the New York 9 race. The dismal state of the economy was a major factor. Obama’s overall approval level in the district was in the low 30% range. Weprin had alienated some members of the Orthodox Jewish community by supporting the gay marriage legislation that narrowly passed in New York this year.

But with many Jewish donors who contributed to Obama in 2008 refusing to do so for the 2012 campaign, and the shellacking the Democrats took Tuesday among Jewish voters, the possibility exists that 2012 may mark a watershed year for Jewish voters. A lot will depend on the GOP nominee. Some candidates will be acceptable fallbacks for Jewish Democrats angry with Obama; others may not be.

In 1980, Jimmy Carter became the first Democrat running for president who failed to receive more than 50% of the Jewish vote in the presidential election. He won 45%, Ronald Reagan won 39%, a third party candidate, John Anderson won 15%.

In both the substance and the atmospherics, Jews who care about Israel sense that Obama is not a friend of Israel, in the way George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were. He may try to pivot in the next year to try to win Jewish hearts, in the same way he is pretending to care about budget deficits, after running up the biggest ones in history year after year. There are increasing doubts after the results Tuesday that the sell job will work this time.

Richard Baehr is the co-founder and chief political correspondent for the American Thinker, and is a visiting fellow at the Jewish Policy Center.

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