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Wasserman Schultz, Schumer Spin Dem Defeat

‘Unusual circumstances,’ ‘unique’ district are culprits for loss, they say

Marc Tracy
September 14, 2011
Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

I just got off a conference call with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairman, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York. Wasserman Schultz spoke about the national ramifications of the two special elections yesterday (there was another in Nevada, which the Democratic candidate lost); Schumer was there to discuss the special election in the New York district that he represented for 18 years until 1998.

Wasserman Schultz, in opening remarks, chalked up David Weprin’s loss to “unusual circumstances” and focused on “the battleground states—that’s where this campaign is going to be won,” in reference to next year’s presidential contest.

Schumer spoke at length about the New York district. “I’ve never seen [the district] referred to as a bellwether. It’s among the most conservative districts in New York City, and it’s changing rapidly,” Schumer said. “The president only got 55 percent of the vote in the ninth, I believe; he got close to 70 in New York City, and won every one of the neighboring districts from between 60 and 90 percent.” Indeed, Obama’s numbers in the ninth, according to the senator, were worse than his overall numbers in New York state. Schumer also noted that despite winning the district, Obama lost the Brooklyn part of it—which is where most of the Orthodox Jews are—by approximately 15 points. The implication being, these are typically Republican voters anyway.

Schumer went on: “When I first was elected in 1981, it was very different. It’s become much more Orthodox than it used to be. And it’s become much more of an immigrant district—a lot of Eastern European immigrants, who tend to be much more conservative, having left the former Soviet Union.” (I can testify that if you want the best Bukharian food outside of Uzbekistan, you should head for one of this district’s kosher restaurants.)

Schumer concluded: “It’s not a bellwether district. Anybody who tries to extrapolate what has happened in this district to what will happen in New York City, New York state, or the country is mistaken.”

Later, in response to a question, he predicted: “I think the president will do well in this district.”

A reporter from the Palm Beach Post asked the Jewish question, and directed it to Wasserman Schultz, whose own district, encompassing parts of Miami and Miami Beach, is also heavily Jewish. “I’m confident that the president, all over the country, will receive the overwhelming majority of the Jewish vote,” she said. “Because of his incredibly strong record on Israel, and because of the focus and the dramatic contrast between the Tea Party Republican candidates, who are wrong on all the issues Jews care about—wrong on a woman’s right to choose, wrong on health care, wrong on fighting to make sure everyone has a fair shake, wrong on civil rights and civil liberties. He and Democrats up and down the ballot will receive an overwhelmingly majority of the Jewish ballot once again.”

I agree—Tablet Magazine columnist Michelle Goldberg laid out this argument in fuller detail. Hearing Wasserman Schultz talk about Obama’s “fighting to make sure everyone has a fair shake” in particular conjured up the Jewish commitment to social justice that has consistently led most of them into the Democratic Party since the days of the New Deal. But there is still the matter of Israel, which, despite Obama’s arguably “incredibly strong record,” seems undeniably to have affected this election: likely less with the Orthodox Jews of Brooklyn and more with the non-Orthodox ones of Queens—the ones who were persuaded by Ed Koch to vote against the pro-Israel Jew to send Obama a message. As I discussed yesterday with Tevi Troy and Matt Duss, this is an issue likely to have resonance beyond Jewish voters; it could play a role in the very “battleground states” where, according to the Democratic Party chairwoman, the 2012 presidential campaign will be won or lost.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.