Social issues could decide the race to replace Weiner

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Ask any pollster, consultant, or talking head if they think social issues will have any bearing on the 2012 election cycle and they will most likely laugh at you.  Most if not all will tell you that, to quote the famous line coined by James Carville back in the 90’s: “It’s the economy, stupid.” And after watching President Obama’s speech to Congress Thursday night, we might modify that and say: “It’s the jobs, stupid.”

The conventional wisdom clearly says that 2012 is all about the economy. With a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, there is little doubt economic issues will play a major role in 2012. But a quick look at what is happening in the upcoming special election in New York’s 9th District — the bluest of blue districts and the seat formerly held by liberal Democrat Anthony Weiner — suggests social issues like same sex marriage are still very much alive. What is more, they could cause mass division among an already frustrated Democratic base.

This division has been hiding in plain sight in recent years in the bluest of blue states. In California, 70 percent of  African-Americans voted for Proposition 8 in 2008, while over 90 percent voted for Barack Obama.  Earlier this year, the reliably liberal Maryland legislature shot down a bill legalizing same-sex marriage — the difference was African-American Democrats.

Now, social issues may cost liberals a usually safe seat in Queens where Democrat David Weprin currently trails his Republican opponent by six points.

Among Weprin’s problems is that he was an “aye” vote when the New York state legislature voted to legalize same-sex marriage earlier this year. He further incensed leaders in the Orthodox Jewish community — usually reliable Democratic votes — by claiming his orthodox faith was a rationale for voting to legalize same-sex marriage. In response, Queens Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Democrat, even crossed party lines to endorse Republican Bob Turner.

But New York liberals like Weprin are beginning to see problems arise among other blocs, too. As the New York Times reports, “Larry Yang, the Korean-American owner of a hardware store,” in Queens was opposed to a public advertisement for same-sex weddings in his neighborhood and “many among the large number of Korean-American Christians in Queens felt similarly but feared that if they spoke out they would be demonized by a liberal majority.”

While conservatives have long worried that immigration and changing demographics would harm them politically, social issues may prove to be the wedge that could be the GOP’s saving grace.

“If [the Democrat] loses, it will be because of the demographics,” says Hank Sheinkopf, a New York Democratic consultant.

Tuesday’s special election in NY-9 has already drawn national attention and money from both parties as well as groups like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), who announced this week a $75,000 independent expenditure campaign there. Having been involved in the marriage battle not just in New York this year, but in numerous state battles since the 2008 election cycle, NOM has closely observing how social issues like marriage are impacting the political landscape.

“Marriage is an issue that is not going away,” said Brian Brown, NOM’s president. “When you have voters who have been betrayed by their elected officials on an issue as important as marriage, the impact on the election cycle is a big one.”

To frame the NY-9 election properly, if the Republican goes on to win, it would be the first time the district has had a GOP Representative since 1923.

… So maybe it’s not just the economy, stupid?

Matt K. Lewis