Obama dragging down Dem candidates in House special elections

Dissatisfaction with President Obama is hurting Democrats’ chances in two House special elections that will take place on Tuesday.

In a Democratic-leaning New York City seat previously held by Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner, some prominent local Democrats have endorsed Republican Bob Turner because of Obama’s handling of Israel, while Democrat David Weprin has sought distance from the president. 

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In a GOP-leaning Nevada district left vacant when Dean Heller was appointed to the Senate, Republicans are using Obama as a cudgel against Democratic candidate Kate Marshall, featuring him in all of their ads while mostly ignoring her.

Many Democratic strategists are privately blaming Obama for their party's difficulties in both districts and worry that if his numbers don't improve he could hurt their chances at retaking the House in 2012.

“The whole national debate has moved away from what the Republicans have done with Medicare to the national dialogue that the president hasn’t been able to talk about the economy effectively and that hurts congressional Democrats,” said one top Democratic strategist who asked not to be named so he could speak candidly.

“It certainly hurts both of them and took Nevada out of contention.”

The Democratic candidates in both special elections have tried to distance themselves from Obama.

In New York, Weprin said that he would “probably” support Obama’s reelection but “absolutely” disagrees with the president’s policy towards Israel. Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat who has endorsed candidates of both parties in the past, is backing Turner because he believes Obama needs to be sent a message on Israel.

In Nevada, Marshall said her opponent’s strategy has been to tie her to national Democrats. 

“My opponent [is] trying very hard to nationalize the race,” she said on Wednesday. “They’d like nothing better than to run against Nancy Pelosi and to run against the president, they don’t want to run against me.”

Approximately three in five of the early votes cast in the Nevada special election came from registered Republican voters.

The special election to replace Weiner in the Brooklyn and Queens district has been a little more parochial and quirky – the district has one of the largest Orthodox Jewish communities in the country, and it has been moving away from the national Democratic Party ever since September 11, 2001, although Weiner had maintained good relations with them until he was forced to resign from Congress.

Obama took 55 percent in Weiner's district in 2008, but a Siena University poll released Friday showed just 42 percent approving of the job he was doing. That poll had Turner beating Weprin by 6 percentage-points in a district Democrats had expected to easily hold on to.

Obama may have also hurt newly installed Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.) in her closer than expected July special election victory. Hahn won with 55 percent of the vote in a district where Obama had taken 64 percent of the vote in 2008.

Republicans picked up 63 seats in the 2010 elections, but Rep. Kathy Hochul's (D-N.Y.) campaign managed to win a March special election in a Republican-leaning district. 

Early signs in New York and Nevada, however, suggest the president could be a drag on Democratic efforts to gloss the gap in the House. 

“If the president’s numbers don’t improve it will hamper the number of seats Democrats can pick up,” said the Democratic strategist.