If the polls are right, the voters in the solidly Democratic New York City district that Anthony Weiner represented until earlier this year are about to elect long-shot Republican businessman Bob Turner to Congress.
Of course, this will be read by Republicans as a sign that the Obama administration has lost support even in bluer-than-blue areas (which is partially true) and written off by Democrats as a fluke produced by the highly irregular demographics of New York’s Ninth District (also partly true). However, both of those blanket statements mask the true reason that Bob Turner will win this race — and the national implications of this vote going forward.
If Turner wins, it will not be because Obama has lost blue-state America entirely. Although the president’s sagging numbers set the stage for this moment, local dynamics are also at play. The Ninth District, which includes parts of Queens and Brooklyn, has an extremely high concentration of Orthodox Jewish voters. Traditionally loyal Democrats, these voters now appear to be driving the Turner surge. And it’s not just Obama and his policies on Israel that they are repudiating. While Obama has a jaw-dropping 31% approval rating in the district, many voters are equally incensed at the New York Democratic Party and Turner’s opponent, David Weprin, for supporting New York’s gay marriage law.
The Democrats originally thought they were doing themselves a favor by nominating Weprin, himself an Orthodox Jew. There were jitters about the Jewish vote at the start of the race, so in a classic case of blind left-wing ethnocentrism, the Democrats cynically slapped Weprin on the ballot to ensure that they could use his Judaism as a hedge against a potential threat from a non-Jewish Republican candidate. Instead, Weprin’s clumsy attempts to play up his Orthodox identity contributed to the implosion of his campaign. Yes, he talked about his Jewishness and always wore a yarmulke when speaking to Orthodox audiences, but he also voted to legalize gay marriage. In fact, he not only voted for gay marriage, he gave a speech on the floor of the state assembly in which he claimed that his religion supported his vote.
This sent many in the Orthodox community through the roof and compelled Democratic Assemblyman Dov Hikind (a powerhouse in the Orthodox political scene) to break ranks and back Turner. It’s one thing to vote for gay marriage; it’s quite another to try to use Orthodox Judaism to back it up. That’s like putting tefillin on a pig and then telling your rabbi it’s kosher.
Any Democrat would have had a hard time explaining that vote in this particular district, but the fact that such a person is now asking for voters to accept him as the “Orthodox Jewish candidate” is an outright slap in the face to the Orthodox Jewish community.
At the end of the day, the district’s Orthodox voters told Weprin exactly where he could shove his yarmulke. They decided, en masse, that it’s not enough for a candidate to simply be an Orthodox Jew. Rather, they demanded that their leaders vote according to Orthodox Jewish values. Weprin offered them platitudes about growing up Jewish, keeping Shabbos and eating Kosher — and frankly that’s all he offered. On the other hand, Turner may be Catholic, but his values are in line with Orthodox Jewish values.