When Anthony Weiner resigned from Congress, it was assumed that whoever got the Democratic Party nomination would win the race to replace him. But you cannot assume when it comes to special elections, remember in 2009 when Ted Kennedy was replaced by a Republican?
The special election for NY-9 is also a strange one. With the vote just a few days away, on September 13th the race between David Weprin (D) and Bob Turner (R) is a toss-up and independents are breaking toward Turner, at least according to an internal Turner poll. That same study showed Turner down by eight in July.
NY-9 is a Democratic Party leaning district by non-partisan pundits as Democrat +5, which means that a generic Democrat would have a five point advantage over a generic Republican. The last time a Republican won the seat was in the 1920 election. On top of the district leanings, Weprin has raised more than twice the money ($450K) than Turner ($204K). The bottom-line is this election that should not even be close; Weiner’s lowest winning total was 61% of the vote. What exactly is going on?
There are three reasons this election is close.
First Bob Turner has more name recognition than the typical opposition party candidate. Bob Turner ran against Anthony Weiner in the recent 2010 election and limited Weiner to only 61% of the vote. This election is almost an extension of the one that took place only eleven months ago, so Turner was far ahead of where most opposition party candidates begin.
The next reason is Ed Koch. The 9th district has a large Jewish community, well actually two Jewish communities. You have the Queens part of the district where the Jews are very liberal, and you have the smaller Brooklyn part of the district, where the Jews tend to be more Orthodox and thus more conservative. All things considered it was the Brooklyn side of the district that is more likely to vote for Turner for many conservative policy reasons most recently Weprin’s vote in the assembly for the law allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Koch, the former mayor is loved by both communities and is working to sway voters in both boroughs. Koch’s influence was seen in the 2008 campaign when many Jews suspected Obama’s positions on Israel. It was Ed Koch’s “hechsher” (kosher certification) that convinced many Jewish voters that it was OK to vote for Obama.
Koch has made Barack Obama’s stance on Israel an issue in the campaign. In his endorsement of Bob Turner published in the Jerusalem Post, he said voters needed to send the Democrats a message that Obama was not liberal enough in the debt ceiling negotiations saying the President has
been the major advocate for seeking a far-reaching deal that would have combined a debt limit increase with substantial spending cuts; significant changes in social programs like Medicare, Medicaid and perhaps Social Security; and as much as $1 trillion in new revenue.
But the thrust of his endorsement was Israel. He reminded voters the latest Gallup Poll showed that Republicans (70%), were much more likely to be supportive of Israel than Democrats (48%), and that Barack Obama policies were hostile to Israel, pointing out the time he “insulted Netanyahu,” by leaving him to sit and stew in a conference room for three hours and Obama’s recent demand that the 1949 armistice lines be the start point rather than the end result of negotiations. He urges Jewish voters in the district to send Obama a message:
If Jewish New Yorkers and others who support Israel were to turn away from the Democratic Party in that congressional election and elect the Republican candidate to Congress in 2011, it might very well cause President Obama to change his hostile position on the State of Israel and to reestablish the special relationship presidents before him had supported. His own reelection will be decided next year in 2012. The outcome of the 2011 congressional special election in the 9th Congressional District will certainly get his attention.
As for Weprin, no one disputes his pro-Israel stance, but like many Democrats he has been accused of failure to confront Obama on the issue.
The third reason that the election is close is that Weprin has not given a good performance as candidate. For example he has been caught in serious gaffes. While the entire country has been focused on the national debt, Weprin got the size of the debt wrong. He told the Daily News editorial board the federal debt is only $4 trillion ($10 trillion off). The very liberal New York Daily News endorsed Turner Friday, a local Orthodox leaning Jewish paper, the Jewish Voice, endorsed Turner over fellow Orthodox Jew Weprin.
Another Weprin gaffe was cancelling a debate the day after Hurricane Irene, he was ridiculed because the weather was fine and the route clear. Weprin has even been accused of sending spies posing as volunteers into Turner’s campaign headquarters.
The Democrat however has powerful backing, President Obama, who does not want a message sent his way. Pay a visit to Obama’s Organizing for America website and you’ll see they have at least 29 separate get out the vote, phone bank or canvassing efforts scheduled in support of Weprin between now and Election Day.
But even that has become an embarrassment for Weprin. Trying to distance himself from Obama Weprin told the NY Post: “I’ve never met President Obama. [Turner] is running against me,” and he told the Jewish Press, “I will probably not refuse to endorse [Obama] because I think I will be more effective by supporting him, but at the same time being very strongly against him on some of his policies.” Both statements have been attacked by Turner as disingenuous considering the organizational support given the Democrat by the President’s team.
All of this is important, but not most important. Traditionally special elections have a very low turnout, so in the end, the team with the best “get out the vote” organization wins. David Weprin has the advantage of the President’s organization and a local Democratic machine that has not lost a congressional election since 1921. Turner may be the stronger candidate, but unless Bob Turner’s organization can match or exceed the Democratic Election Day “get out the vote,” momentum in the polls will mean absolutely nothing