In an upset to Democrats both locally and nationally, the Republican defeated the Democrat in the race to replace Anthony Weiner in New York’s ninth congressional district.
Republican Bob Turner, a retired media executive, bested Democrat Assemblyman David Weprin by eight points in a crushing defeat for a seat not held by a Republican since 1923.
In an election that Republicans both locally and nationwide were hoping to frame as a referendum on President Obama, sending a message to the White House on both economic and foreign policy issues was a frequent message touted by Turner and his supporters.
“This message will resound for a full year. It will resound into 2012,” Turner said at his victory party in Howard Beach. “I only hope our voices are heard, and we can start putting things right again.”
“We are unhappy, I am telling you, I am the messenger,” Turner said. “Heed us. … We’ve lit one candle today and there’s going to be a bonfire pretty soon.”
Although the Associated Press called the race for Turner just before midnight, Assembly David Weprin said he wouldn’t concede just yet.
The Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee quickly put out a statement congratulating Turner and saying the win is a “clear rebuke of President Obama’s policies” and it “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,” Pete Sessions, R-TX, said in a statement.
Longtime New York City Democratic analyst Hank Sheinkopf says there is no doubt the voters were trying to send a message to the White House and Democrats should see Tuesday’s results as a bellwether for 2012.
“The Democrats said no to Obama, no to his economic plan, and no to his position on Israel,” Sheinkopf told ABC News. “It’s major smack at Democrats, a definite rejection of President Obama and it’s a warning that says if Catholics in the most blue of blue states can vote for the Republican they can do it in other states as well and the Democrats may have real trouble.”
Special elections traditionally do have low turnout, but the district is registered three to one in favor of Democrats and the Queens party machine is strong, they had over 1,000 volunteers in the district in a get out the vote effort knocking on doors over the weekend and the past two days. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent more than $500,000 in television ads in the district. Outside groups also poured money in the race and Sheinkopf estimates that the Democrats could have outspent Republicans “six or eight to one” in the race.
Late Tuesday evening DCCC Chairman Steve Israel, D-NY, said special elections are always “difficult,” citing “low turnout, high intensity races.”
“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,” Israel said in a statement.
The district — which encompasses part of Queens and Brooklyn — has been trending more conservative, despite the steep registration advantage for Democrats. Sheinkopf described the Catholic voters—the district has large Catholic and Orthodox Jewish populations — as the “very people that Obama needs to get back to get re-elected.”
Obama won the ninth congressional district with 55 percent of the vote in 2008, four years before Kerry won the district with 56 percent, and in 2000 Gore won the ninth with 67 percent. This can also be seen as a tough loss for Democrats knowing that the seat also belonged to Senator Charles Schumer and former Vice Presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro.
The economy and even the candidates’ stances on Israel have become vital issues in the race. The Turner camp tried to paint Weprin as being in lockstep with President Obama while Weprin and his supporters said Turner cannot be trusted protect popular entitlement programs like social security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Weprin is an Orthodox Jew and has almost identical views on Israel as Turner, but voters upset with Obama’s call to return to Israel’s pre-1967 borders were successful in making it one of race’s most important issues and one that may have put Turner on top.
Former Democratic Mayor Ed Koch’s endorsement of Turner in July shifted the momentum to the Republican. Koch urged Jewish voters to cast a vote for Turner to send a message to the White House to rebuke their Israel stance and it’s been a crucial issue that Weprin had to defend himself on throughout the short campaign. Koch didn’t back down from that Tuesday at Turner’s victory party saying the president “threw Israel under the bus,” according to the New York Times.
Monday, Turner acknowledged that he and Weprin’s views on Israel are similar, but it’s about the president’s stance on Israel.
“It’s not about my position or his [Weprin] which are pretty identical, it’s the president’s position and if you are with the party or against it, simple as that and will this district, which is surprisingly overwhelmingly Democratic, will they go along with the president and be able to be taken for granted as it were or will they send this message of protest and dissatisfaction,” Turner told ABC News.
Election Day in the district was not without some drama with Turner’s camp earlier Tuesday claiming deceased voters had been mailed absentee ballots and they moved to try and seal all paper ballots. However, with his eight point lead those votes won’t be needed by Turner’s camp.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.