When Anthony Weiner flashed his BVDs on Twitter, he set in motion a chain of events that almost certainly had to end the way it did on Tuesday, with the loss of his seat to Republicans. But not for the reason you think.
Steve Benen explains:
There are plenty of angles to consider to the results. We could talk about the fact that [Democrat David] Weprin just wasn’t a good candidate. We might mention that New York’s 9th isn’t quite as “blue” as advertised, the race had some unique local issues, and the district will likely be eliminated through redistricting anyway.
What was wrong with Weperin? Local pols complained he didn’t campaign enough in the Brooklyn part of the district. But probably more germain was the fact that Weperin is a pro-marriage equality guy, running in a heavily Orthodox Jewish district (read super-super conservative) against a guy who made President Obama’s supposed lack of support for Israel, and his statements in support of a Palestinian state, his core issue. (Anthony Weiner was a fire breathing liberal on most issues, but on Israel he was a super-Likudnik.)
We have lit one candle today. It’s going to be a bonfire pretty soon. We’ve been asked by the people of this district to send a message to Washington — and I hope they hear it loud and clear: Mr. President, we are on the wrong track. We’ve had it with your irresponsible fiscal policy which endangers the entire economy and every one of our social safety nets. We have had it with your treatment of Israel… We are unhappy. I am the messenger. Heed us.
Moreover, the district is 71 percent white, and just 4.4 percent black. Hell, it’s the Howard Beach district, for God’s sakes. Sure, Obama won it in 2008, and Perry did in 2004. But this was a district drawn specifically to pump up black and Hispanic districts neighboring it, leaving it very, very white. From the Almanac of American politics (hat tip to Politifact):
“This is unquestionably a Democratic district, but conservative by New York City standards: It voted 67%-30% for Democrat Al Gore for president in 2000, but in 2004, after President George W. Bush’s response to September 11, it gave Democrat John Kerry only 56%. It was the greatest swing of any congressional district in the nation that year. In 2008, Democrat Barack Obama won with 55%-44% over Republican John McCain. Obama lost the Brooklyn portion of the district 57%-42%.”
Gore was seen as an extremely strong supporter of Israel, which stood him in good stead in D9. Anthony Weiner won the district overwhelmingly in 2002, and then ran for re-election without having to face a challenger in 2004 and 2006. D9 went 55%-44% for Obama in 08, similar to his national margin. New York as a whole went 62.2% to 33.7% for John McCain.
And it being a special election, of the 654,360 population of the District, about 32,000 people voted for the winner.
That’s not to say the race is meaningless. Obama is losing support among middle aged and older white voters, who are heavily represented in a District like New York’s D9, and who are taking out their frustrations over the economy on Democrats, even if they don’t poll favorably toward Republicans.
If you think the D9 loss portends all of New York going red in 2012, you don’t know much about New York. But if the administration and the Obama re-election campaign play this and the Nevada special Democrats also lost on Tuesday down too much, they too are making a mistake. The tepid economy is making even core Democrats (and Jewish voters are core Democrats, giving the party on average 80 percent of their vote)… restless. And the emo-ization of the left is giving some liberals an excuse to stay home in protest, and for vocal liberals and liberal-libertarians to compel others to do the same. If Democrats feel hopeless, or helpless to stop the tea party from completing its takeover of the federal government (which ironically would mean the end of Social Security and Medicare, which the very seniors who are the most sour on Obama want no part of seeing privatization destroy them) — it could be curtains for President Obama, or perhaps worse for the president, a tepid re-elect and a Republican congress.
Bill Burton (former WH deputy press secretary) your witness:
“Democrats need to know that this is going to be a very tough election for President Obama, and unless people get engaged, it could be catastrophic,” said Bill Burton, the president’s former deputy press secretary.
How nervous are Democrats about 2012? “Probably not nervous enough,” Burton said. “They think, ‘These guys can’t beat President Obama,’ but let me tell you — in a close election, any Republican can.”
UPDATE: From astute reader Nellcote… looks like Weiner’s seat was won the same way he won it. Hm…
Salon.com has uncovered the race-baiting techniques Weiner desperately employed to become a New York City council member:
He was not the favorite. Two other candidates with more name recognition, deeper ties to the community, stronger organizational support, and bigger bankrolls seemed to have the inside track: Michael Garson (the candidate of the Brooklyn Democratic organization) and Adele Cohen (the favorite of a progressive/labor coalition that backed candidates across the city in ’91). It was a low-profile race, but Weiner attracted positive reviews, aggressively campaigning and using his performer’s flair to steal the show at debates and candidate forums. But as the all-important Sept. 10 Democratic primary approached, the consensus was that he’d come up short and that, as Newsday put it in an editorial endorsing one of his opponents, he should “try again next time.”
It was at this point that Weiner’s campaign decided to blanket the district with leaflets attacking his opponents. But these were no ordinary campaign attacks: They played the race card, and at a very sensitive time. They were also anonymous.
Just weeks earlier, the Crown Heights riot — a deadly, days-long affair that brought to the surface long-standing tension between the area’s black and Jewish populations — had played out a few miles away from the 48th District. The episode had gripped all of New York and had been national news. It was just days after order had been restored that Weiner’s campaign distributed its anonymous leaflets, which linked Cohen — whose voters he was targeting in particular — to Jesse Jackson and David Dinkins, who was then New York’s mayor. It is hard to imagine two more-hated political figures in the 48th District at that moment. Jackson just a few years earlier had called New York “Hymie town,” and it was an article of faith among white voters in Weiner’s part of Brooklyn that Dinkins had protected the black rioters in Crown Heights — and thus endangered the white population — by refusing to order a harsh police crackdown. (Two years later, Dinkins would lose to Rudy Giuliani by an 80-20 percent margin in the 48th District.) The leaflets urged voters to “just say no” to the “Jackson-Dinkins agenda” that Cohen supposedly represented. At City Hall, Dinkins held up the flier and branded it “hateful.”
Apparently, Weiner eventually took responsibility for the fliers.
Well ain’t that a kick in the head.