Weiner's district goes to GOP

I don't think I've ever received more reminders to do something than to vote in the special election in New York's 9th Congressional District - better known as Anthony Weiner's former district. The calls were constant. So were the calls from pollsters.It certainly has surprised me that a Republican candidate, Bob Turner, won in what has always been a Democratic district. When asked to prognosticate last spring during the midst of Weiner's travails, I wrote that any other Democrat could hold the seat. Wrong.The quick conclusion to reach is that the vote is a rejection of President Obama. There is much evidence for that; he received 55 percent of the district's vote in 2008, but recently polled just a 43 percent approval rating. But there is more to it. The 9th C.D. is not exactly Obama territory. In fact, he would not be president if the rest of the country voted the way the district did in the 2008 presidential primary. Hillary Clinton won 70 percent of the vote; Obama had 27 percent.So how did Bob Turner go from the 39.8 percent he received in 2010 against Anthony Weiner to around 54 percent against Democrat David Weprin? 2010 was not exactly an easy year for Democratic House candidates, either, but Weiner won by 20 points. Unemployment was high back then, too, and Obamacare was already approved. Further disenchantment with Obama is a factor, but not the only one.Following on the Weiner fiasco, the Turner-Weprin race received enormous media attention. In 2010, Turner got virtually no coverage. This year, Turner got plenty of attention and was much better able to get his message out. Plus, he had built up some recognition by running a credible campaign in 2010 - rare for Republicans in Brooklyn and Queens. Weprin was a lackluster candidate. Based on my observation, Turner did a better job of connecting with voters on a personal level. People like him. He has an appealing story: He became fed up with Weiner after watching him on television, called a party leader and asked who he could support against the Democrat. No one was running, so Turner ran. Weprin's story is not so appealing: He is the son of a powerful Queens Democrat, and, with his brother, has advanced as part of a family political dynasty. He doesn't even live in the district, which made no difference to the party boss who handpicked him for the nomination. Wrong story to have in a time of anti-incumbent fervor.Weiner, before his scandal, was on the other hand a formidable candidate. This didn't have much to do with his liberal politics, in my opinion. He was more liberal than the district, and flourished anyway because he was known locally as an effective and energetic advocate for his constituents. The pre-disgrace Weiner was an astute campaigner. I doubt he would have been outflanked on the question of support for Israel, as Weprin was, to his detriment in a heavily Jewish district. Israel became the 51st state in this campaign, to borrow Peg Steinfels's phrase, with former Mayor Koch endorsing Turner to send a message to Obama that he should be more supportive of Israel. Weprin, who is Orthodox Jewish, stumbled on this.These are some of the other reasons that Bob Turner will go to Congress. Much will be said about how the upset vote in a traditionally Democratic district was a rebuke of Obama. I wouldn't say that's wrong, but it shouldn't be oversold.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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