Race for Weiner's Old Seat Could Turn on Jewish Votes for Catholic Republican

The race to replace disgraced politician Anthony Weiner in a heavily Democratic and heavily Jewish district is surprisingly close, as the GOP candidate makes inroads with voters by turning the race into a referendum on President Obama's policies on Israel and the economy.

With days to go before the Sept. 13 special election, Republican businessman Bob Turner is six points up over Democratic Assemblyman David Weprin in a new poll, though the two have been within a few points of one another for weeks.

The edge for Turner wouldn't be too unusual except for the fact that registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the Brooklyn-Queens district by about three-to-one.

Though Weprin has a fundraising advantage and racked up support from many big-name Democrats, including New York's two U.S. senators, Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, as well as Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, Turner has managed to stay competitive in part by keeping Obama's policies front-and-center in the race.

Turner told Fox News that voters are seeing this election as a "referendum" on Obama, which he conceded is making his job easier considering the president's approval ratings are at record lows.

"I think the momentum is shifting our way," he claimed.

On Israel, Turner and his supporters have been hammering the message that a vote for Turner is a vote to repudiate Obama's Israel policies -- though Turner is a Catholic and Weprin is an Orthodox Jew.

"The election of a Republican here in this district, which is so heavily blue, will send a resounding message to the president that his policies on the Israeli question will not be tolerated," Turner pronounced Tuesday on former Gov. David Paterson's radio show.

Turner has an echo chamber at his disposal pushing the same line. In a big get for the candidate, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch -- who is Jewish and a Democrat -- endorsed Turner over the summer. A quote in which Koch claimed a vote for Turner could cause an about-face in Obama's Israel policy now emblazons a campaign flier from the Republican Jewish Coalition. "Vote No to Obama/Weprin," the flier reads.

Democratic Assemblyman Dov Hikind, also Jewish, endorsed Turner Wednesday, citing again Obama's "reckless" Israel policy as well as his economic policies.

Costas Panagopoulos, a political science professor at Fordham University, said Turner's people have identified Israel as a "winnable" issue.

"The campaigns have paid close attention to the demographics in this district," he said.

The district is one of the most heavily Jewish in the state, comprising Orthodox and more liberal Jewish neighborhoods. It is also one of the most reliably Democratic, having elected only Democrats to the House since the 1920s. The district voted for Al Gore in the 2000 presidential race by more than a two-to-one margin. In the latest Siena College Research Institute poll, Weprin leads Turner among Jewish voters by just 6 points, 51-45.

Panagopoulos noted that voters can't be taken for granted.

"Jewish voters are more apt to support Democratic candidates but when they have a reason not to they may turn to the other side or they may simply opt out. ... Either way, it would create a problem for Democrats."

Other factors also plain in the race. Included in the Siena poll out Friday was a finding that Turner has a much stronger lead among Republicans than Weprin does among Democrats. In Friday's poll, Turner was drawing 90 percent of Republicans and 32 percent of Democrats compared to Weprin, who attracted 63 percent of Democrats but only 6 percent of Republicans.

Panagopoulos said Weprin's also being hurt by the national landscape, and national frustration with the state of the economy -- as well as the fact that the departed congressman, who resigned at the height of a salacious sexting scandal, was a Democrat.

Weprin has insisted that his stance on Israel should not be in question, regardless of what some voters might think about Obama's.

"I'm very much committed to the security of the state of Israel, and to keep that very special relationship that the United States has had with Israel," he said on Paterson's show. "I've actually been particularly critical of the president of my own party on that issue, because he made a couple of statements that I thought were wrong."

Weprin has criticized Obama for publicly calling for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders, and for his treatment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But The Jewish Voice, which endorsed Turner, claimed Weprin has not challenged Obama enough on the topic. The newspaper also slammed Weprin -- calling him "ostensibly an Orthodox Jew" -- for voting in favor of New York's same-sex marriage law.

Weprin's campaign did not return a request for comment from FoxNews.com, but with just days to go, the assemblyman is going on air in the pricey district with a new ad hammering Turner for pushing "Tea Party budget ideas."

The ad, reportedly paid for in part by a nearly $500,000 buy from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, warned that those ideas would force reductions in Medicare and Social Security benefits, and it urged voters to support the candidate of "fiscal rationality," i.e. Weprin.

"The more voters learn about David Weprin and Bob Turner, the more they reject Turner's radical views," campaign spokeswoman Liz Kerr said in a statement.

Turner told MyFox New York that he's not a "member" of the Tea Party but does like some of their "principles."

The Siena poll take Tuesday-Thursday of 866 likely district voters had a 3.3. percent margin of error.