11:55 p.m. EST: Republicans have scored an upset victory in a New York City House race that became a referendum on President Barack Obama’s economic policies.
Retired media executive and political novice Bob Turner defeated Democratic state Assemblyman David Weprin in a special election Tuesday to succeed Rep. Anthony Weiner, a seven-term Democrat who resigned in June.
The heavily Democratic district spanning parts of Queens and Brooklyn had never sent a Republican to the House. But frustration with the continued weak national economy gave Republicans the edge.
Turner has vowed to bring business practicality to Washington and push back on spending and taxes.
The Associated Press called the race in favor of Turner with him owning 53 percent of the vote, with 338 of the 512 precincts within the 9th Congressional District reporting.
Both candidates hit the streets today, meeting voters and trying to boost turnout, the key in most special elections. Weprin had a full public schedule of get-out-the-vote events, while Turner’s only scheduled public appearances were his vote Tuesday morning and an after-the-vote party at a restaurant. His campaign said he would be out in the district all day drumming up support.
Polls closed at 9 p.m., and candidates headed to their election night headquarters to wait out the results.
Panicked at the prospect of an embarrassing loss, Democrats poured cash into the race and sent in their stars to try to save Weprin, a state lawmaker who was forced to defend Obama’s economic policies even as he tried to stress his own independence and close ties to the community.
Republicans worked to frame the race as a referendum on Obama, even though turnout is usually low in a special congressional election.
“It wasn’t planned that way, but this is the only nationally contested election on the federal level, so it is, in a way, a referendum on President Obama’s policies,” Turner said Tuesday.
Nevada also had a House election today after a shake-up that started with Republican Sen. John Ensign’s resignation. Republican voters were trouncing their Democratic counterparts at the polls in a GOP-leaning district that has never elected a Democrat.
On Monday, House Republican Leader Eric Cantor argued that a Turner victory would be an “unprecedented win” and the latest evidence of voter dissatisfaction with Obama.
“That district is not unlike the rest of the country. People are very unhappy with the economy tight now, and, frankly, I would say unhappy with the lack of leadership on the part of this White House,” Cantor, of Virginia, told reporters in the Capitol.
Back in the district that spans parts of Queens and Brooklyn, Turner campaigned with Rudolph Giuliani, the popular former Republican mayor.
Weprin campaigned at a senior center today and greeted voters at a subway stop with Democrats including U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler.
With a large population of Catholic and Orthodox Jewish residents, the 9th Congressional District is broadly blue collar and more conservative than many others in the city. It’s the kind of white, working-class environment that Obama struggled with in his 2008 campaign even as he was easily winning most other traditional Democratic constituencies.
A Siena Poll released Friday showed Turner leading Weprin among likely voters, with a 50 to 44 percent margin. The same poll found just 43 percent of voters approving of Obama’s job performance, while 54 percent said they disapproved. The president fared much worse among independents. Just 29 percent said they approved of his job performance, while 68 percent disapproved.
Hoping to shift the momentum in the final days, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee invested more than $500,000 in ads in New York’s pricey television market. An independent Democratic group, the House Majority PAC, ran ads, too. And Obama for America, part of the Democratic National Committee that support the president’s re-election, urged volunteers to rally behind Weprin.
The party also enlisted two of its biggest guns, former President Bill Clinton and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to record phone calls for Weprin. And Democrats relied on organized labor and other affiliated groups to bring voters to the polls.
Weprin tried to cast Turner as hostile to popular entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. It’s a formula that worked for another Democrat, Kathy Hochul, who won a heavily Republican upstate New York district in a special election last May by vowing to protect those programs.
But Weprin, a frum Jew, was on the defensive on same-gender marriage and Israel, which could have peeled away some support from the Orthodox community. He voted in favor of same-gender nuptials in the New York Assembly, and some Jewish voters threatened to withhold support for Weprin because they disapprove of Obama’s policies toward the Jewish state. Former Mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat, endorsed Turner.
“Rightly or wrongly, it is (part of the race),” Turner said Tuesday. “This president has been less friendly than any other president in recent history, and I think today voters can hold him to account for it.”
The House seat opened up in June, when Weiner was pushed by party leaders to resign.