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Turnabout Is Fair Play

Binyamin Rose

The Jewish vote has always been a powerful force in American politics, but its strength was particularly apparent in one of the biggest upsets in recent history in a Congressional race that captured national news headlines.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bob Turner may have set a record for one of the shortest political speeches in history at his swearing-in ceremony last Thursday as the House of Representatives’ newest member. While his brevity was certainly
welcome in a milieu where all-night filibusters sometimes reign supreme, his few short words were long on content.

“It’s with true humility that I accept this awesome responsibility, and I pledge not to forget how I got here,” said Rep. Turner, a seventy-year-old businessman and a first-timer to public office.

Assuming Turner remains loyal to the Republican Party symbol — the elephant that never forgets — his words sounded sweet to Orthodox Jews, who comprise about one-third of the district’s registered voters. In the final analysis, it was they who played a major role in getting Mr. Turner to Washington.

Spurning Turner’s Democratic challenger David Weprin, partly due to his open support for same-gender marriages, but also because of voter dissatisfaction over the economy and President Obama’s policies on Israel, both askanim and campaign professionals and operatives hit the ground running on Turner’s behalf.

“After we lost the same-gender marriage vote in the New York State Legislature, we saw a chance here for our community to make a public statement about the vote and Weprin’s flaunting of his support for it,” said Abe Biderman. “This was literally a kiddush Hashem, showing that we have a voice and that when people flaunt their opposition to our values, we’ll express our opposition in a united way.”


Short but Sweet

The short but intensive campaign began at the end of June when Anthony Weiner resigned from Congress following a personal scandal, and officials announced the September 13th special election to choose his replacement. Turner began the campaign as a decided underdog, with the odds stacked against him. No Republican since Andrew Petersen in 1920 had ever been elected from that district. Registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans by three to one; Mr. Weprin corralled endorsements from unions and other major players who have proven their ability to get out the vote on Election Day and the Weprin campaign even outspent Turner’s by a thirteen-to-one margin.

Mr. Weprin also had the support of President Obama, though that support seemed dubious considering that the president’s coattails are steadily getting shorter. This is the fourth high-profile race in which Obama has taken his licks, including the November 2009 gubernatorial victories by Republican challengers Chris Christie in New Jersey and Robert McDonnell in Virginia. Turner’s win may be most comparable to Republican Scott Brown’s victory over a Democratic challenger in Massachusetts’s special election last year to fill the seat vacated by the death of Senator Ted Kennedy. That was the first time in thirty-eight years that Massachusetts sent a Republican senator to Washington.

The Obama-Weprin link wasn’t limited to the support offered by the president. “Very early in the race, the goal was set to link Weprin to Obama,” said Yitzchok Saftlas, CEO of the Bottom Line Marketing Group. Mr. Saftlas crafted Turner’s winning strategy in the Orthodox sector after viewing results from a McLaughlin & Associates poll that provided clear evidence that disenchantment with President Obama’s treatment of Israel, and his handling of the economy, were hot-button issues for the district’s voters.

“One of the core messages we developed for the Turner campaign was: ‘Obama threw Israel under the bus … it’s time to send a message to Washington,’ ” said Mr. Saftlas. His team also spent hours poring over five different maps detailing hundreds of election districts to “micro-target” Orthodox and traditional Jewish voters whom they thought would be receptive to Mr. Turner’s pro-Israel, pro-business message. Jonathan Schenker, who served as
the Turner campaign’s political director and liaison to the Jewish community, reported unusually long lines in polling places in Orthodox neighborhoods, where election districts broke for Turner by as much as an 8–1 margin. “I don’t think that the Orthodox community was as united behind a candidate since the 1993 mayoral race between David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani,” he said. “I’ve heard from several Orthodox people who turned out to vote for Turner, only to find out that they didn’t even live in the district.”

Rep. Turner himself acknowledged the role of the advertising campaign devised on his behalf and supported by the Orthodox community. In an email message from Mr. Turner to Saftlas, the grateful winner wrote: “You played a decisive part in this campaign. You and your team were imaginative, responsive and always right on point.”



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