Candidates vie for Orthodox Jewish vote in N.Y. election

The Orthodox Jewish vote has become the wild-card voting bloc in the race to replace former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.).

Democratic candidate David Weprin, a state assemblyman, is an Orthodox Jew but has not yet coalesced support around his campaign.

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And on Wednesday, New York state Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D) crossed party lines to endorse Republican candidate Bob Turner.

Hikind, a conservative foreign-policy hawk who also has a local radio show, is influential in the district’s large Orthodox Jewish community. He has backed Republicans before, endorsing former President George W. Bush in 2004 and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008, and was unhappy with Weprin’s vote to legalize gay marriage in the state.

The district’s community is more conservative than other Jewish communities around the country, especially on foreign policy and social issues, and tends to vote as a bloc, depending on whom its leaders support. 

The district also had the biggest swing of any in the country toward Republicans: After giving then-Vice President Al Gore 67 percent of the vote in 2000, it gave Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) just 56 percent of its vote in 2004. President Obama took 55 percent of the vote in 2008.

Weprin and Turner are in what seems to be a close race in the Democratic-leaning district that encompasses parts of Brooklyn and Queens. Turner released a poll last week that showed the race tied, prompting the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to release its own internal poll showing Weprin up by 8 percentage points. The election is next Tuesday.

Hikind is not the first prominent Jewish Democrat to endorse Turner, who is Catholic. Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch (D), who has also backed Republicans in the past, endorsed Turner in August, because, he said, Obama needed to be sent a message to be more supportive of Israel.

Weprin has brought in Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), an Orthodox Jew, to campaign for him, and has sought distance from Obama, telling The Jewish Press, “I will probably not refuse to endorse him because I think I will be more effective by supporting him, but at the same time [I am] very strongly against him on some of his policies.” 

The Jewish Press endorsed Weprin on Wednesday, writing that “there are few public officials who have expressed themselves more forcefully on Israel’s behalf.”

Weprin’s campaign also announced Wednesday that it will run an advertisement accusing Turner of wanting to cut Social Security and Medicare and touting Weprin’s endorsement from The New York Times. 

The campaign described the ad buy as “major” but did not immediately say how large the buy was or where the ad will run. Weprin leads Turner by a substantial margin in cash on hand, although Turner has self-funded much of his campaign and could give it another cash injection so he can compete with Weprin on the airwaves. The National Republican Congressional Committee sent out a fundraising appeal for Turner on Wednesday afternoon.

Both candidates have stumbled at times.

Weprin canceled a debate appearance in the more conservative part of the district at the last minute last week and blamed Hurricane Irene for pulling out of the event, even though downtown New York was not heavily affected by the storm.

Turner said a law to cover medical expenses for workers, volunteers and residents who have health issues stemming from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was too expansive. The 10th anniversary of the attacks falls two days before the election.

Neither the NRCC nor the DCCC has spent much in the district, which is in the most expensive media market in the country.