Other than Barack Obama, no single person had a greater impact on the NY-9 race than Ed Koch. The economy and marriage issues were also key, of course, but Koch explicitly framed the election as an attempt to send a message to Obama on Israel.
This March 2010 post from Ron Radosh helps make sense of Koch’s decision. Koch is a centrist Democrat, hawkish on defense and supportive of Israel. Like Joe Lieberman, Koch represents the Democratic party of an earlier day. Because of the War on Terror, Koch broke ranks in 2004 to support President Bush’s re-election campaign. Yet unlike Lieberman, who endorsed McCain in 2008, Koch campaigned enthusiastically for Obama in 2008. In Florida that year, Koch assured Jewish voters that Obama would be a strong friend of Israel. Koch also dismissed Republican attempts to cast doubt on Obama’s commitment to Israel as unfounded and hysterical.
This helps explain why Koch moved so aggressively to urge NY-9 to send a message to Obama. Koch must feel as though his pledges to the Jewish community on behalf of Obama now obligate him to speak out. You can see Koch’s distress in the message Radosh reproduces at the bottom of his post. Koch wrote it shortly after the first disastrous visit to America by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. There Koch calls Obama’s attitude toward Israel “blatantly hostile.” Koch also clearly believes that Obama has broken with the supportive stance toward Israel shown by every previous president. Koch ends by saying: “Supporters of Israel who gave their votes to candidate Obama–78 percent of the Jewish community did–believing he would provide the same support as John McCain, this is the time to speak out and tell the President of your disappointment in him.”
Obviously, Koch feels fooled by Obama. Maybe all those Republican warnings about the significance of the Jeremiah Wright and Rashid Khalidi connections weren’t so crazy after all.
About six months later, in November of 2010, at the Huffington Post, Koch responded to the Democratic defeat in the midterms by calling on the party to move away from its “radical left” position. Koch goes so far as to imply that the Democrats have been flirting with socialism. (H/t again to Radosh.)
So Koch stands for those traditionalist Democrats who enthusiastically supported Barack Obama in 2008, sincerely believing his claim to be a post-partisan pragmatist and friend of Israel. These are the Democrats who discounted warnings based on Obama’s radical past, and put faith in his smooth assurances. Now that the mask has slipped, it will be tough to get it back on.