When I was little and learning how to play baseball, there was no advice I heard more than “don’t go for a home run.” Home runs were folly, hubristic hitting that screwed with your stance; it was supposed to be all about singles and doubles and aiming to take the pitcher’s head off, a piece of advice I have always found somewhat dark to give to 7-year-olds, but such is our national pastime. The point stood that solid-though-not-spectacular work wins games and gets you ice cream afterwards.
This small-ball singles and doubles playbook just about sums up the campaign strategies of those Republican presidential candidates who are not Donald Trump; at this point, Ted Cruz and John Kasich are after delegates wherever they can find them, something my colleague Harry Enten evocatively calls “delegate leakage” on the part of Trump. In the New York primary Tuesday, Cruz and Kasich are looking to win delegates with a demographic you might not expect to get a lot of attention in a Republican primary: Jewish voters. Kasich and Cruz have been spotted musing about the Old Testament and Dayenu-ing in recent days.
According to our forecast, Trump has a greater than 99 percent chance of winning the New York primary, but how the state’s 95 delegates are allotted comes down to those things we are coming to know and not-at-all love — delegate allocation rules. New York allots 14 at-large delegates proportionally based on the statewide results of the primary; 81 delegates — three for each congressional district — are awarded according to the results of the district, and then “split 2-1 between top two finishers, with 50 percent winner-take-all trigger,” as one Nate Silver explained succinctly here, along with the delegate rules for all the other upcoming states.
Trump’s support goes above 50 percent in many districts according to a recent Optimus poll, but he’s weaker in New York City’s metro area. In other words, there are delegates to be had, particularly in some of the city’s bastions of Jews who are politically and culturally conservative, which is why Cruz and Kasich have both been out in Brooklyn lately conducting a subway series of voter targeting.
About 1.1 million of the 8.5 million people living in New York City are Jewish, and most of them are political liberals. According to a Pew Research study on American Jews from 2013, 55 percent of Jews living in the New York City metro area said that they leaned Democratic while 31 percent leaned Republican. This is more rightward leaning than the rest of the country’s Jewish population; nationwide, 70 percent identified as Democrats or said they lean toward the Democratic Party, and 22 percent identified as Republicans or leaned Republican.
New York’s relative conservatism of New York’s Jewish population has to do with the city’s high number of Orthodox Jews, who tend to vote for Republicans: According to Pew, 57 percent are Republican or lean Republican, and 36 percent are Democrats or lean Democratic. New York City is home to about half a million Orthodox Jews, and Pew estimates that 89 percent of the country’s Orthodox population lives in the Northeast region, primarily New York and New Jersey.
According to a demographic study by the UJA Federation of New York and the Jewish Community Relations Council, the congressional districts in New York City with the greatest number of Jews are the 10th district (Manhattan’s West Side and the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn), the 9th (the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Crown Heights, Flatbush, and parts of Sheepshead Bay); and the 6th (the Queens neighborhoods of Forest Hills and Flushing). Borough Park and Crown Heights, in particular, are known for being home to sizable Hasidic communities.
Notice some overlap? The 10th Congressional District, with the city’s largest Jewish population, has the city’s second-largest Republican population. Trump has 65 percent support in the Staten Island-dominated 11th district, but looks weaker in the 10th, according to the Optimus survey. He has only 39.5 percent of the vote in the 10th, Kasich has 31.7 percent and Cruz has 21.3, meaning it’ll be a scrum to get one precious delegate.
And there’s a reason Cruz and Kasich haven’t spent that much time in Manhattan campaigning for votes. When you break down Republicans in the 10th district further to look only at those living in Brooklyn — remember, thanks to the wonders of gerrymandering, the 10th encompasses Manhattan’s entire West Side along with the Borough Park neighborhood, miles away on the other side of the East River — you find that there are 16,889 Republicans in Borough Park alone. Kasich headed to the neighborhood last week, hoping to turn out some of those Jewish votes, visiting a matzo factory and a school.
Cruz’s matzo pitch was at Chabad Neshama Center (an outpost of the Lubavitch Hasidic sect) in Brighton Beach, a spot in New York’s 8th Congressional District where Trump has about 52 percent support, but which is also adjacent geographically and culturally to Sheepshead Bay, a Brooklyn neighborhood in the 9th Congressional District where Trump is at just about 50 percent. The area, with a large Jewish and Russian population, has reliably leaned Republican, so candidates are smart in assuming that they might get more milage out of their meet-and-greets out there — Assembly District 45, encompassing Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay, was, along with Borough Park’s Assembly District 48, one of the few parts of the city where Mitt Romney won more votes than Barack Obama in 2012.
Trump’s David Duke dust-up a few weeks ago might just have weakened the candidate with some of these Jewish voters, along with his suggestion during a February debate that he would be “sort of a neutral guy” when it came to the Israel-Palestine conflict, leaving room for Kasich and Cruz. Cruz has made a hawkish defense of Israel a mainstay of his foreign policy, while in a Gallup survey of American Jews (granted one that included Democrats), Kasich had favorable ratings approaching those of Bernie Sanders.
Perhaps one more reason for the Republicans to stick with a no-sleep-til-Brooklyn strategy in the coming days.