In a closely watched special election to replace disgraced Rep. Anthony Weiner (D), polls are showing a tight race between retired businessman Bob Turner, the Republican, and David Weprin, a Democratic member of the New York State Assembly. [Editor's note: The original version did not correctly list the current position of Mr. Weprin.]
Voters are casting their ballots Tuesday.
The reason the election is close is because of concern about the sluggish economy and unhappiness over Democratic policies, political scientists say. A turn to Mr. Turner – in a district that has a 3-to-1 Democratic advantage and has not been represented by a Republican since 1923 – might indicate that voters have become disenchanted with Mr. Obama’s policies.
“This election should send a strong signal to the Democrats and the president,” says Costas Panagopoulos, a political scientist at Fordham University in New York. “If the Democrats can’t win in this district, that suggests big problems for the Democratic Party nationwide.”
Indeed, the vote may be part of an anti-incumbent and anti-professional-politician shift taking place, says pollster Lee Miringoff of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. “Turner is a good candidate if you are looking to send a message, since Turner is not a career politician like Weprin.”
The special election was necessary after Mr. Weiner, a seven-term congressman, in late May admitted to “sexting” – using Twitter to send nude photos of himself to various young women and carrying on racy online conversations. On June 16, Weiner, who is married, was forced to resign.
Although the Ninth District, which stretches from Brooklyn into Queens, has historically been heavily Democratic, Obama garnered only 55 percent of the vote in 2008, Mr. Miringoff points out. One reason: The district has gained more Russian Jewish residents, who tend to vote more conservatively.
“Nevertheless, if the Republicans carry the district, the spin doctors will have a field day,” says Miringoff.
Obama is apparently less popular among the Jewish constituency after he suggested in May that Israel’s borders should essentially go back to the pre-1967 ones. This prompted a huge outcry from Israeli lobbyists and Jewish voters.
That’s partly why former Mayor Ed Koch has endorsed Turner. He says it’s important to send a message to Obama, who he believes “has thrown Israel under the bus.”
“I think the message is, don’t take the Jewish constituency for granted – and this district has the largest Jewish constituency in the nation,” says Mr. Koch.
Both candidates are longtime supporters of Israel.
In the current race, Democrats are counting on union phone banks and political operatives to help them get out the vote. “New York is the bluest of states, and the unions are very powerful here,” says Koch, who thinks the combination of the economy and the Israel issue will outweigh the union appeal.
Koch has made robocalls on Turner’s behalf.
Weprin has tried to link Turner with the tea party. However, Koch says that before he agreed to endorse Turner, he asked him to put in writing that he would oppose efforts to privatize Social Security and Medicare.
“He told me, ‘I am for stabilizing the programs and making them solvent in the future,’ ” Koch says. “I said, ‘Put it in writing’ and he did.”
In the 2010 elections, which resulted in the Republicans gaining control of the US House, Weiner defeated Turner by about 20 percentage points – a relatively close race. In an earlier interview with the Monitor, Turner said that Democrats outspent his campaign by $6 for every $1 once they realized it was a closer race than expected.
Now, Koch says, the prospect of Turner winning “has them all scared to death.”