10:50 am Sep. 7, 2011
Republican Bob Turner's campaign has launched a new ad campaign aimed squarely at the conservative Jewish vote in the Ninth Congressional District, a demographic-segment that has already been the target of a disproportionate amount of attention from both candidates in the run-up to the September 13 special election to replace former congressman Anthony Weiner.
The Turner campaign has paid a sum of money they won't disclose to run ads on a number of web sites and in Orthodox Jewish newspapers, including YeshivaWorld.com, where a banner is already (intermittently) up. “Obama thinks he can fix the economy on a bus,” it begins, and then: “He already threw Israel under it. It’s time to put on the brakes and send a clear message to Washington. Vote Bob Turner for Congress this Tuesday September 13.”
It's only the latest small step by the campaign to convey the complicated message that Obama is bad on Israel, and therefore a defeat by Democrat David Weprin in a Democratic district will move Obama rightward on Israel.
The (presumably inexpensive) ad buy occurs as the Turner campaign collects the endorsement of Assemblyman Dov Hikind.
Hikind, a Democrat who regularly endorses Republicans, is an Orthodox Jew representing the 48th Assembly District, which is home to a sizable Hasidic population. By virtue of the fact that the the city’s other large Hasidic populations—in Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Williamsburg—are represented by non-Jews, Hikind has at times been a de facto spokesman for Hasidic causes in New York City.
But how much will his endorsement in the Ninth Congressional District, which is not home to a large population of Hasidic Jews, matter? And for that matter, how important will all this Israel turn out to be on Election Day?
It’s difficult to say. The Orthodox Jews in the Ninth mostly look like, well, David Weprin. They are, to varying degrees, frum, but they do not wear black hats and black coats and take political direction, in blocs, from rabbis. And while those Orthodox Jews are more prone to Israel-based voting than non-Orthodox Jews, who are much more likely to vote (liberally) on things like jobs and the economy and health care, they are only a fraction of the district's overall Jewish population.
At the same time, there is reason to believe that the district’s Jewish population, while not Hasidic, is somewhat more conservative than it used to be.
First some numbers. There are 49,522 Jewish voters in the district, according to Voter Contact Services, which compiles lists of voters in districts across the country. That compares to 29,123 Asian voters, 40,566 Hispanic voters, 35,265 Italian voters, and 26,238 Eastern European voters.
(Jerry Skurnik, a New York consultant who works with VCS, sent over the following methodological explanation and disclaimer: "We use an ethnic dictionary for coding probable ethnic origin of voters. It has been developed over the last 30 years through the cooperative efforts of political consultants, sociologists and specialists in ethnic origin. It contains over 288,000 last names that code voters into 35 different ethnic groups. There are examples that would produce misleading results, but overall it produces very effective statistical selections. Blacks are selected using a combination of the ethnic dictionary, census data and past election results. In many parts of NYC, Jewish voters have names that we code as East European.")
Those Jews tend to vote in relatively high numbers, but that only partly explains the amount of attention they're garnering in this campaign.
Ed Koch, the progenitor of the sending-a-message-to-Obama argument, has had a lot to do with it too. Turner, a Catholic who lives in very non-Jewish, very white Breezy Point, has enthusiastically and somewhat improbably seized the opportunity to put Weprin on the defensive with a segment of the district's electorate that the Democrats might otherwise have taken for granted, talking about his fealty to Israel, and alluding to Obama's disagreements with the current Israeli government, as loudly and frequently as possible.
How effective this tactic is as a vote-getter among the Jews of the Ninth depends, in large part, on who those Jews are.
“Who are the Jews in Forest Hills? They are Russians, Bukharians, and everyone else we think are the Jews left a long time ago,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant who is uninvolved in the special election. “The Brooklyn portion of this district contains a lot of Russians and others who view Israel and social issues from a right-of-center context. They’re not liberals.”
Skurnik, who is a walking encyclopedia of New York electoral demographics, pretty much agreed.
“Most estimates are a third of the voters are Jewish, and that includes secular Jews, conservative Jews, reform Jews. Certainly not 99 percent of the district is Orthodox,” said Skurnik. “But I do think a significant number of voters in the district are not necessarily West Side liberal Jews. They are socially conservative Jews who may not necessarily be Orthodox, but are pretty hawkish on Israel. And my guess is that is who Hikind can help with; not necessarily people who go to synagogue every Saturday and have ten kids.”
It was not always thus. The staunchly Democratic Jews who, in Sheinkopf's words, "used to sit on the benches on Ocean Parkway listening to transitor radios about the latest developments in Israel" are either "dead, or have moved to Florida, what’s left of them."
The district has inched rightward accordingly.
“In the last three presidential elections, the Republican presidential vote has gone up, which is an indication that some of the voters in the district are getting more conservative,” Skurnik said. “Most people think it’s that the Jewish voters are getting more conservative.”
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