Democrats are bracing for a possible loss in New York’s 9th district, where Queens and Brooklyn residents will go to the polls on Tuesday to decide on a replacement for Anthony Weiner, who resigned earlier this year over lewd messages that he had sent over Twitter.
The latest polls show Democrat David Weprin, a state assembly member and former city councilman, trailing Republican businessman Bob Turner. Democrats enjoy a 3:1 registration advantage over Republicans in the district, but it went for Obama in 2008 with only 55% of the vote, making it competitive enough to leave an opening for a Republican in a low turnout special election.
The President’s approval ratings are low in the district — extremely so by some pollsters’ account — dragging Weprin’s campaign down with him. PPP found Obama with a disastrous 31-56 approval rating.
Turner has positioned himself as a moderate Republican on fiscal issues, indicating that he’d be willing to accept some increase in tax revenue as part of a deficit deal. But he’s really turned heads by aggressively attacking his opponent over Obama’s record on Israel and Weprin’s support for the Park 51 community center in Lower Manhattan, even using 9/11 footage in ads, as part of a strategy to win over the district’s large number of Jewish voters. There’s some evidence that it’s paying dividends too: the latest PPP poll found 37% of voters said Israel was “very important” to their vote and support Weprin over turner by a 71% to 22% margin. Another pollster, however, Siena’s Stan Greenberg, told TPM he hasn’t seen the “Israel effect” in his own data on the race.
Weprin has sought to portray Turner as a prototypical Tea Partier (a label he rejects), arguing that his call for swift reductions in the deficit will require major cuts to Social Security and Medicare. His campaign has included some major stumbles, however. In an interview with The Daily News editorial board he couldn’t remember how large the national debt. The gaffe was made that much worse because Weprin has campaigned heavily on his experience handling fiscal issues as chair of the City Council’s finance committee.
The race, already pretty rough and tumble, took another turn for the ugly on Sunday when Politico published leaked court documents from Weprin’s difficult 1986 divorce in which a judge chastised him for failing to looking after his children’s welfare.
Sensing trouble, national Democrats have been blanketing the airwaves with major ad buys this week.The DCCC is up with a TV spot as is House Majority PAC, a Super PAC devoted to electing Democrats. Republicans have been less active, but NRCC officials have suggested they may swoop in at the last minute to give Turner a final push.
The district is in an unusual position heading into the election in that it may not exist beyond this election cycle - New York is losing two seats next year and it’s long been considered a prime target for redistricting. Democratic officials and strategists in New York complained to TPM that the Queens Democratic Party tempted fate by not nominating a stronger candidate, working under the assumption that whoever was elected would only hold the seat briefly.
“Anyone who knows and understands the district and knows the national mood knew that this was going to be a tough election, and instead of picking someone who is a great campaigner and disciplined candidate they picked the opposite,” one Democratic consultant said.
Heading into the election, Weprin is counting on superior resources and the Democratic machine’s traditional edge in the ground game to rescue the campaign, but it may be too late to change the dynamics in a low turnout special election with both local and national winds against him. NY-9 is hardly the most representative district nationwide, but expect to see a flood of commentary on whether Obama is dragging down Democrats nationally — especially with Jewish voters — if Turner prevails.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.