Businessman Bob Turner (R) defeated state Assemblyman David Weprin (D) in the special election for the House seat held by former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner (D).
Turner’s victory is regarded as an upset given the Democratic history of the 9th district, which takes in portions of Brooklyn and Queens, as well as the fact that President Obama carried the seat by 11 points in 2008.
“New Yorkers put Washington Democrats on notice that voters are losing confidence in a President whose policies assault job-creators and affront Israel,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) in a statement after Turner’s win.
Although the district may well be eliminated by Empire State line-drawers tasked with cutting down New York’s congressional delegation by two seat before 2012, the result will buoy Republicans hopes heading into 2012 and spur anxiety among Democrats.
Republicans also easily held a seat in Nevada’s GOP-heavy 2nd district, which has never elected a Democrat. State Sen. Mark Amodei (R) beat state Treasurer Kate Marshall (D) in a special election for the House seat left open by Sen. Dean Heller (R), who was appointed to replace Sen. John Ensign (R). Ensign resigned earlier this year over a scandal involving an aide.
The New York seat, which was vacated by Weiner earlier this year following relevations of his involvement in a series of online liaisons with women who weren’t his wife, was initially considered safe for Democrats.
While it’s conservative by New York City standards, Democrats still have a 3-to-1 registration advantage in the district.
Republicans sought to turn the race into a referendum on President Obama, tying Weprin to the surprisingly unpopular commander-in-chief at every turn. (Obama’s approval rating was at 43 percent in the district, according to a survey conducted by Siena Research Institute).
Both House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus cast the result as a rebuke of Obama’s new jobs plan.
Obama’s position on Israel became, fairly or not, an effective wedge against Weprin. The Democratic candidate tried to distance himself from Obama’s assertion that Israel should return to its pre-1967 borders but Turner effectively linked that position, deeply unpopular in the district’s Jewish community, to his Democratic rival. Weprin’s support for same-sex marriage also turned off some socially conservative Jewish voters.
Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat, endorsed Turner and explained that a victory by the Republican would be the best way for Democrats to send a message to the President.
The National Jewish Democratic Council disputed the idea that Israel was a major factor.
“In the end, in this difficult economy, Americans -- including in New York’s Ninth District — are hurting,” said National Jewish Democratic Council President David Harris. “In this atypical district, they’ve reacted atypically.”
Democratic party leaders did everything they could to de-couple this vote from any sort of national trend.
As evidence they cited the fact that Democratic performance in the district has been eroding for years. In the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore got 67 percent of the vote; Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) got only 56 percent in 2004, and Barack Obama 55 percent in 2008.
“I represented the 9th congressional district for 18 years,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters on a conference call Wednesday morning. “It’s by large, 75 percent the same and I’ve never heard the 9th congressional district referred to as a bellweather.”
Moreover, Democratic strategists noted that they had a fairly weak candidate in Weprin, whose campaign was plagued by gaffes. He was chosen by party leaders largely because he promised not to challenge another incumbent in 2012, should his seat be eliminated in redistricting. (Unhappiness with the party machine also had an effect.)
With New York slated to lose two seats due to growth over the last decade that lagged the national average, the 9th is considered ripe territory to be eliminated although no formal redistricting discussions have taken place.
As we’ve written, special elections are notoriously unreliable as predictors of future results. But for now, Democrats have reason to be spooked.