NEW YORK — President Obama is not on the ballot in Tuesday’s surprisingly close congressional election here, but Republicans in Queens are doing everything they can to make the race a verdict on his performance.
This bastion of Democrats is tilting toward a 70-year-old Republican businessman who has never been elected to any office, and whose campaign is focused on “sending a message” to Obama — over the economy and his support for a Palestinian state and rolling back Israel’s borders to 1967 lines, a big issue for many Jews in the Ninth District.
If he pulls off the upset, Bob Turner would become the first House Republican representing this portion of Queens since the 1920s — a striking achievement in a district that elected the late Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic Party’s 1984 vice presidential nominee, now-Sen. Charles E. Schumer and, for the previous 12-plus years, Anthony Weiner.
Weiner’s resignation in June, over lewd photos he sent to women over Twitter, set up what was supposed to be a sleepy special election two days after the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
By Monday afternoon, Turner was predicting victory.
“It is a referendum in many ways,” Turner said to a couple dozen supporters in the Forest Hills neighborhood. “That message will come through loud and clear.”
He outlined staunch conservative ideas to promote private-sector job growth and to dramatically slash government spending. His opponent, state Assemblyman David Weprin, was an afterthought during a 30-minute event in which Turner and his high-profile endorser, former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, fixed their critique squarely on Obama.
Both public and private polls show a tight race with momentum on Turner’s side, but voter registration and political infrastructure favoring Democrats.
A Turner victory would serve as a double blow to the White House. Across the continent, in a special election Tuesday for a northern Nevada congressional district, a race once thought to be within reach for Democrats appears to be turning into a rout for Republican Mark Amodei.
Just as in New York, Nevada Republicans have targeted the president at least as much as their actual opponent, with one ad splicing back and forth between words uttered by Obama and similar phrases from the Democrat, Kate Marshall.
In Queens on Monday, Giuliani paused to choose his words before finally referring to Obama’s latest jobs proposal as “warmed over spit.”
“We need to send somebody to Washington who is going to send a message,” the ex-mayor said, in almost the same refrain as the Nevada GOP ad.
Big GOP victories Tuesday would give the Republicans — who previously spent four years linking Democratic candidates to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — a new line of attack against Democrats.
Republicans contend that a pair of wins would demonstrate that Obama and the sagging economy are a worse drag on down-ballot candidates than the controversial House Republican proposal to transform Medicare, an issue that proved costly to a GOP candidate in a May special election near Buffalo.
Democrats are not ceding the New York race. Former president Bill Clinton and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo have recorded phone calls for Democratic voters, who outnumber registered Republicans by a 3-to-1 margin. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee poured $500,000 into advertising.
Weprin spent the final day of campaigning at senior centers, warning that Turner would support plans to privatize entitlement programs. There are “clear differences in this race,” the Democrat told supporters at a rally in Forest Hills. He recited a litany of Turner’s conservative statements, including his claim that he never met a tax loophole he didn’t like and that Social Security has been “a failure”.
Still, he acknowledged that the race has worn him down. “It’s only been six weeks, yes, it does feel like six months,” he said.
The contest took something of a hiatus over the solemn anniversary weekend. Weprin, an Orthodox Jew who does not campaign on Saturdays, went from 300 troops knocking on doors and making calls to voters on Friday and Saturday, to none on Sunday, when the city was consumed with marking the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
At his Monday rally, Weprin and his supporters avoided talk of Obama and touted his lengthy resume in state and local government. “He’s a vetted and proven candidate,” said Rep. Joseph Crowley, the local party boss.
Yet many voters appear to want the opposite: Turner’s most notable previous work was as a TV executive overseeing the Phil Donahue and Jerry Springer shows.
Turner embraced his outsider status Monday, as well as the tea party movement. “Tea party, I think, stands for ‘taxed enough already.’ I can live with that,” he said, smiling.