In the wake of Rep.-elect Bob Turner’s (R) upset victory in the special election in New York’s 9th district on Tuesday night, the prevailing question among Democrats will almost certainly be: Is it time to push the panic button?
There’s little debate that the seat that will now occupied by Turner was one Democrats could have and should have won. It had been in Democratic hands for more than eight decades and was carried by President Obama by 11 points in 2008. And Democrats had a three-to-one registration advantage in the district.
Why they didn’t win is a matter of debate, but expect the after-action analysis to focus on the fact that Republicans (and former Democratic New York City mayor Ed Koch, who endorsed Turner) cast the race as a referendum on Obama.
That perception, which national Democratic leaders will do everything they can to beat back today, is a dangerous one for already-skittish Democrats concerned about how the still-staggering economy and the president’s unpopularity will impact them next fall.
It’s compounded by the fact that Democrats came nowhere close to winning another House special election in Nevada on Tuesday. At one point party strategists had seen a path to victory there too.
The special election to replace disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D) in a Brooklyn-Queens House seat wasn’t supposed to be close.
After all, this is a seat long held by Democrats — including the likes of now Sen. Chuck Schumer and former Rep. Liz Holtzman — and one that President Obama carried by 11 points just three years ago.
But, all sides now agree that today’s contest between state Assemblyman David Weprin (D) and businessman Bob Turner (R) is a nip-and-tuck affair with Democrats privately pessimistic about their chances. (Make sure to offer your own guess on the outcome in our Fix prediction contest.)
So what does the tightness of the race — and the possibility of a Turner upset — tell us about the political landscape?
Republicans are citing their momentum in two special elections being held Tuesday as evidence that the national political environment has shifted against Democrats and President Obama.
Four months ago, Democrats made the same argument about the GOP’s liabilities during their own win in an upstate New York special election.
And they are both right. Kind of.
The two competing storylines coming out of very different special elections just 130 days apart shows just how fickle American voters are right now.
They also demonstrate that any Republican momentum should be seen as momentary, and that the electorate four months hence could just as well revert back to punishing Republicans.
Meanwhile, all eyes Tuesday will be on whether the GOP can truly steal the seat of former congressman Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) and keep that of now-Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.).