The election of a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic congressional district in New York City spells it all out for Barack Obama in 2012, i.e., D-E-F-E-A-T.
There are always many subfactors in a special election such as this one, but there is only one overriding factor that could account for the decisive outcome, the unpopularity of the president. NY-9 has not elected a Republican congressman since 1920. It has 3-1 registration favoring the Democrats. 40% of its Brooklyn and Queens population are Jewish. The Democatic nominee was an Orthodox Jew, a state legislator, and a member of a respected local political family. His opponent was a 70 year-old Roman Catholic who had previously not held any political office. Democratic U.S. Senator Charles Schumer had represented most of this district for 18 years before becoming a senator, The incumbent, Anthony Weiner, had resigned because of a scandal, but had been a Schumer staffer and was his hand-picked successor. Schumer is (I should say “was”) the most powerful New York politician today. Until last night, it was unimaginable that a Republican could win this seat.
Also, last night in a Nevada special election, the Republican won a landslide victory to replace a Republican congressman who had been appointed to the U.S. senate when a recent vacancy occurred. That district was Republican, but margin of victory reflected the fact that local Democrats didn’t even try to win.
Democratic incumbents across the nation, even those in “safe” districts and “safe” states, will now face a very sober fact this morning, to wit, they face an even more disastrous election next year than even 2010 was. If NY-9 can vote 54-46 for an unknown Republican, no house or senate seat is truly “safe” in 2012.
The problem for the Democrats is Barack Obama. It was not only his economic policies which provoked the result in NY-9, it was Mr. Obama’s foreign policy. Jewish voters overwhelmingly supported Mr. Obama’s election in 2008, but his unambiguous hostility to America’s historic alliance with Israel has taken a toll on his support. As Israel becomes increasingly isolated in the midst of the current upheaval in the Middle East, its alliance with the U.S. becomes more and more important. Even many liberal Jewish voters who support Mr. Obama’s domestic policies are growing apprehensive about his foreign policy.
Most importantly, in addition to Democratic incumbents and challengers who intend to campaign next year, there is the vital group of Democratic strategists, campaigners, and consultants whose very well-being requires Democratic victories next year. These men and women must now face the implacable reality that the top of their ticket next year might lead to political disaster.
And how big might that disaster be? Recent surveys of 2012 gubernatorial, senate and house races by the highly-respected Rothenberg Political Report (full disclosure: I contributed to this publication for 20 years) paints a bleak picture for Democrats, especially in gubernatorial and senate races. After NY-9, the picture becomes bleaker for U.S. house races as well.
In 2009, I wrote on these pages that President Obama’s policies would lead to huge losses in 2010. The final results were quite close to my predictions. Now in 2011, I will suggest that if Barack Obama runs for re-election, and current economic conditions continue, the 2012 elections will lead to an even greater majority for Republicans in the house, possibly 60 GOP senators or more, and a new resident in the White House. The Democratic Party, furthermore, will cease to function as we now know it, suffering the kind of massive rejection that one of the major parties suffered in Canada a few years ago. (It did eventually recover.)
There was a Democrat who won big in New York last night, however. That is Governor Andrew Cuomo. Having initiated already successful conservative policies to turn things around in the Empire State, he is now the most powerful and popular Democratic politician in the state, and should Mr. Obama decide not to run next year, a very attractive possible “fresh face” nominee for a party desperately needing new blood and good news.