Israel, not Sex Scandal, Seen as Main Issue for Weiner Replacement

In a largely Orthodox Jewish district, Democratic stance on Israel is key

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When voters take to the special election polls in New York's ninth congressional district on Tuesday, they'll be deciding on a replacement for a Democrat who courted controversy in his last days in office. But analysts say the fact that a Republican is now favored to take over the spot has less to do with Anthony Weiner sending risqué pictures of himself on Twitter than it does with his party's--and President Barack Obama's--stance on Israel.

In the heavily Orthodox Jewish district that encompasses large parts of Brooklyn and Queens, "when it comes to Israel, any skilled politician knows that you tack hard right every time," wrote Benjy Sarlin at Talking Points Memo. That's what Weiner did, and that's what his would-be Democratic replacement, David Weprin, himself an Orthodox Jew, is trying to do--distancing himself from Obama's address in May, in which he advocated a return to Israel's borders before the 1967 Six-Day War. "I think going back to pre-‘67 borders as a starting point is a mistake, it’s not a defensible point of view," Sarlin quoted Weprin's comments to reporters on Monday. "Israel right now from a security point of view doesn’t have a negotiating partner, certainly while the Palestinian Authority is affiliating with Hamas. I’ve been very vocal on that. I think my record on Israel is pretty solid."

Weprin's opponent, Republican Bob Turner, is a Catholic, a faith also heavily represented in the ninth district. While his own position on Israel matches Weprin's, it's his party's overall opposition to Obama that may draw some Democrats away from supporting Weprin. "If Turner wins on Tuesday it will be largely due to the incredible unpopularity of Barack Obama dragging his party down 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," reported Public Policy Polling on Sunday. Alex Altman wrote in Time that "U.S. policy toward Israel is a signal issue for many voters; 37% of respondents in Siena [Research Institute]’s poll described it as 'very important.' "

Even though Weprin's own position on Israel differs from Obama's and aligns with Turner's, Turner and the Republican party want to frame the issue on party lines. "It’s the president’s position and if you are with the party or against it, simple as that," he told ABC News. Former New York City mayor Rudolf Giuliani, campaigning for Turner, said Weprin's "willingness to follow anything the Obama administration wants him to do or say" on Israel would turn off voters in the normally Democratic district. Ed Koch, a Democratic former mayor, has crossed party lines to support Turner. "Koch’s argument, which has been thoroughly absorbed by numerous Turner supporters, is that the heavily Orthodox 9th district presents a unique opportunity to do what Scott Brown did for health care and put the scare into the White House over Israel," Sarlin wrote.

While the issue of Israel policy, along with domestic questions such as same-sex marriage (which Weprin supported but which does not have wide support in the ninth district), Weiner's own indiscretions have largely disappeared from the race. Alex Altman wrote in Time that the "scandal-scarred incumbent" wasn't the "primary bogeyman." And in a small race on normally Democratic territory, some suggest that the Democratic machine may be enough for the win. These special elections usually get low turnout, and the local Democratic Party has a strong volunteer base. At Politico, Alex Isenstadt wrote, "Bill O’Reilly, a Turner strategist and veteran of New York City campaigns, conceded that Republicans can’t match the Democratic ground game. “Not a chance,” he said.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.