Look­ing for omens among the win­ners

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - Opinion by Wes­ley Pru­den

The race to fill the va­cant House seat of dis­graced An­thony D. Weiner in New York City should hold no spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance. The Repub­li­cans aren’t par­tic­u­larly hard up for an­other vote in the House, and the district will dis­ap­pear when district bound­aries are rewrit­ten later this year. No ad­van­tage of in­cum­bency is at stake.

But it mat­ters a lot in Washington, where strate­gists for both par­ties turn over ev­ery rock, twig and man­hole cover to dis­cern omens, hints and in­ti­ma­tions.

The polls sug­gested a mighty up­set in the mak­ing; some of them showed Bob Turner, the Repub­li­can can­di­date, lead­ing David Weprin, a state as­sem­bly­man and the Demo­cratic can­di­date, by 6 points (the mar­gin Turner won by). That’s well out­side the mar­gin of er­ror. Worse, an­other poll showed Mr. Turner lead­ing among in­de­pen­dents by 58 per­cent to 26 per­cent, and even among Democrats, he was win­ning an as­ton­ish­ing 29 per­cent. Among the 37 per­cent of the vot­ers who say U.S. sup­port for Is­rael is im­por­tant — mostly but by no means all of them Jews — the Repub­li­can can­di­date led by 71 per­cent to 22 per­cent.

A Repub­li­can re­sult on elec­tion night, never mind a rout, is shock­ing in­deed. The power of the quake felt at the White House will far ex­ceed the wimpy lit­tle tremor of a fort­night ago that only rat­tled a few dishes and cracked an oc­ca­sional wall in Washington. But the Repub­li­cans don’t have to win the spe­cial elec­tion to send a mes­sage from the district that strad­dles the line be­tween Brook­lyn and Queens. Most of the Repub­li­cans any­body sees in this district are vis­i­tors, and a close re­sult would have to be in­ter­preted, even by the New York Times, as a re­buke to Pres­i­dent Obama and a mes­sage to fright­ened Democrats that Mr. Obama could drag a lot of them to obliv­ion with him. No­body likes obliv­ion.

Not only that, but such a re­sult should demon­strate a deep frac­ture of the Jewish vote, which has al­ways been re­li­ably Demo­cratic in New York and ev­ery­where else, no mat­ter that faith­less yel­low dogs have been yap­ping (and oc­ca­sion­ally nip­ping) at the heels of the Jews for years.

There was a good Repub­li­can prospect in Ne­vada as well, where the Demo­cratic can­di­date started the race burn­ing barns, ac­cus­ing her Repub­li­can op­po­nent, Mark Amodei, of sup­port­ing cuts in fed­eral en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams. When Mr. Amodei replied in kind, with the help of a $600,000 con­tri­bu­tion from the Repub­li­can con­gres­sional cam­paign com­mit­tee, that she sup­ported Oba­maCare, the Demo­cratic cam­paign col­lapsed. Now Democrats might con­sider whether they mis­cal­cu­lated and vot­ers re­ally do mean it when they say they’re will­ing to sac­ri­fice if that’s what it takes to move Amer­ica back from the edge of the abyss. Mr. Amodei went into Elec­tion Day the un­ex­pected heavy fa­vorite and won by a land­slide.

The Repub­li­cans are play­ing smart ball, just as they did in Mas­sachusetts last year, telling Washington to send big money, not big mouths. The big mules — John A. Boehner and Eric Can­tor first among them — stayed home. Mr. Turner was not ex­actly a stealth can­di­date, but he un­der­stands that all pol­i­tics is lo­cal and that win­ners play it that way. He got the en­dorse­ment of Ed Koch, the former Demo­cratic mayor who has be­come highly sus­pi­cious of national Democrats over re­cent years, and maybe most im­por­tant of all, he made him­self Is­rael’s best friend in the race. Is­rael is lo­cal is­sue No. 1 in cer­tain neigh­bor­hoods in New York, and the 9th Con­gres­sional District is one of them. David Weprin is Jewish, and Bob Turner is not, and Mr. Turner has suc­ceeded in sell­ing the no­tion that bet­ter a right­eous Gen­tile than a nice but bash­ful Jew.

Noth­ing marked this as a Repub­li­can pickup, but mak­ing the race a ref­er­en­dum on Barack Obama’s per­for­mance as pres­i­dent, which Bob Turner did, shows the pres­i­dent’s 2012 vul­ner­a­bil­ity in bright re­lief.

“This [race] will be a re­jec­tion of his poli­cies that have sti­fled the district,” says Ed­ward Cox, the chair­man of the New York Repub­li­can Party.

“Maybe Democrats can save the sit­u­a­tion by fun­nel­ing hundreds of thou­sands of money in vi­cious ads — maybe that will work in this Demo­cratic district, but they are al­ready em­bar­rassed by the fact that they’ve had to do it that way.”

The im­pli­ca­tions in the race in Ne­vada were not nec­es­sar­ily about elect­ing a new Repub­li­can con­gress­man, ei­ther. The wise men were watch­ing the re­sults for clues to the prospects of the two can­di­dates for the U.S. Se­nate next year. The Democrats have to win that race if they want to keep their ma­jor­ity, now down to four seats.

Wes­ley Pru­den is editor emer­i­tus of The Washington Times.

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