Republican Bob Turner won former
Rep. Anthony Weiner's (D-N.Y.) House seat on Tuesday, a bad sign for
President Obama and down-ticket Democrats heading into next year’s
Turner was leading Democrat David Weprin by 54 percent to 46 percent with 81 percent of precincts reporting right before midnight eastern time. The Associated Press has called the race.
National Republican Congressional Campaign Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) put out a statement immediately after the race was called, blaming Obama for the loss.
"This clear rebuke of President Obama’s policies delivers a blow to Democrats’ goal of making Nancy Pelosi the Speaker again. New Yorkers put Washington Democrats on notice that voters are losing confidence in a President whose policies assault job-creators and affront Israel. An unpopular President Obama is now a liability for Democrats nationwide in a 2012 election that is a referendum on his economic policies," he said.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) though dismissed suggestions the loss was a troubling sign for Democrats in 2012.
"The results in NY-09 are not reflective of what will happen in November 2012 when Democratic challengers run against Republican incumbents who voted to end Medicare and cut Social Security while protecting tax loopholes for big corporations and the ultra wealthy," wrote Israel in a statement.
“Special Elections are always difficult – they are low turnout, high intensity races,” he said.
The NRCC also put out a statement from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the only Jewish Republican serving in the House.
Cantor criticized Obama's Middle East policies, which was a huge issue in the largely Orthodox Jewish district.
Turner "understands the special relationship that America has with our friend Israel. His victory tonight is an indicator that the Middle East policy pursued by the Obama Administration does not sit well with the many people who care deeply about the U.S./Israel relationship," Cantor said.
Polling leading up to the race indicated Obama was dragging down the
Democratic candidate. Democratic pollster Tom Jensen of Public Policy
Polling said that a Turner win would be “largely due to the incredible
unpopularity of Barack Obama dragging his party down in the district”
after PPP’s polling found Obama with just 31 percent approval in a
district he won with 55 percent of the vote in 2008.
A Democratic strategist said Obama has become such a problem for down-ticket Democrats that he was wary of encouraging candidates to run next year. “I’m warning my clients — ‘Don’t run in 2012.’ I don’t want to see good candidates lose by 12 to 15 points because of the president,” said the strategist.
National Democrats expected early on that they would have no problems holding the district, even though it has trended Republican over the last decade. But when the race tightened the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee decided to spend $500,000 on television ads in the highly expensive media market, while the Democratic outside group House Majority PAC has spent an additional $100,000. Republicans were badly outspent in the race, but it didn’t matter.
The district’s population, which besides the Orthodox Jewish community contains many Catholics of Irish and Italian descent as well as large populations of Hispanics and Asians, has trended away from the Democratic Party since Sept. 11, 2001, although Weiner had done well there up until his resignation in June. Al Gore won the district with 67 percent of the vote in 2000, but Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won just 56 percent there in 2004. It had the largest shift towards the GOP from 2000 to 2008 of any district outside of the South.
Democrats, meanwhile, complain the Weprin campaign failed to reach out effectively to the sizeable Asian and Hispanic communities in the district, leaving the electorate whiter and more conservative than it could have been.
But even taking into account some of the Weprin campaign’s weaknesses, the unusual dynamics of a special election, the district’s unusual demographics and drift towards the GOP, for Democrats to lose a district long held by their party should concern them.
The results might point to another trend: a softening in Obama support from the Jewish community, which strongly backed him in 2008. The district has one of the largest Orthodox Jewish populations in the country.
Turner got some early momentum when a prominent state Democrat crossed party lines and endorsed him. Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch (D) sent a message to Obama about his policies toward Israel with his endorsement of the Catholic Turner over Weprin, an Orthodox Jew.
Turner’s win will scramble the state’s redistricting process. New York is losing two seats, and the Democrats and Republicans who share control of the state’s line-drawing process were expected to ax this district as well as a Republican one in the upstate area. But Republicans will be less willing to have two of their districts put on the chopping block.
The Republican win also ended a string of Democratic special-election victories in New York and give the local GOP some payback. Besides Democrat Kathy Hochul’s 2010 win, Democrats Bill Owens and Scott Murphy won open House seats in Republican-leaning districts in 2009, although Murphy went on to lose his reelection campaign in 2010.
A senior Democratic strategist agreed that Obama’s numbers have been worrying down-ticket Democrats, and that a New York special-election loss would heighten their concerns.
“The one thing that’s going to resonate in the echo chamber is the president is really pulling down people’s numbers,” he said. “Democrats are going to start getting a little nervous.”
-- This story was last updated at 6:44 a.m.