The huge hole that President Barack Obama finds himself in as he moves closer to an election year will be brought into sharp focus on Tuesday in a battle to represent a heavily Democratic congressional seat.
The Republican Party is poised to win in the outer boroughs of New York City in a race that two New York daily papers describe as a “referendum” on Obama’s policies.
The race, in the seat vacated by disgraced Rep. Anthony Weiner, shouldn’t even be close, in an area where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 3-1 and where they have outspent the GOP on TV ads 20-fold.
But 24 hours before polling stations opened, 70-year-old Republican Bob Turner was 6 points ahead of his Democratic opponent, David Weprin. Turner lost to Weiner, who resigned after being mired in a sexting scandal, by 20 points in the midterm election in November.
Monday’s survey, by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling (PPP), gave Turner, a businessman, a 47-41 percent lead over Weprin. It mirrored a Siena Research Institute poll on Friday that gave Turner 50 percent, compared with Weprin’s 44 percent.
“If Republicans win this race on Tuesday, it’s real-world evidence of how unpopular Barack Obama is right now,” said PPP President Dean Debnam. “Approval polls are one thing but for the GOP to win in a heavily Democratic district like this would send a strong message about how unhappy voters are.”
The district, which straddles the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, hasn’t voted Republican since 1921. Obama won 55 percent of the vote there in the 2008 presidential election.
But it contains a large number of Orthodox Jews who are unhappy about what they see as the president’s lukewarm support of Israel. Former Democratic New York City Mayor Ed Koch has even urged voters to cast their ballots for Turner to show anger at Obama’s proposal that Israel should retreat to its pre-1967 borders.
Democrats believe the Weprin campaign still could stem the tide.
“This is one of those places where the Democratic machine knows how to get out the vote, and Republicans just don't have that in place,” a senior House Democratic aide told The Washington Times.
Echoing that view was a Republican aide, who added, “But I think that the position that we’re in right now is about the best that anyone could've hoped for one, two or three months ago.”
Democrats are pulling out all the big guns as the clock ticks toward the vote. New York’s popular Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former President Bill Clinton were enlisted for a series of robo-calls urging voters to support Weprin.
"He'll stand up for the middle class, he'll support a good program to put Americans back to work, and he'll oppose the tea party plan to destroy Medicare," Clinton says in his call.
Weprin, 55, has made a series of missteps — most noticeably, when asked the size of the federal debt, he guessed $4 trillion, which is $10 trillion less than the real amount.
Both the New York Daily News and the New York Post have described the special election as “a referendum on President Obama." Both papers endorsed Turner.
“A great deal is riding on the outcome,” the Post’s endorsement said. “Not just for Weiner's former constituents in New York’s 9th Congressional District — but for the entire nation.
“Let’s face it: The nation’s in a rut. Some 14 million Americans are out of work. The economy’s been comatose for three straight years. Markets are jittery.
“And Washington's red ink is flowing furiously, further threatening the economy — and the fiscal stability of the nation.
“As Obama himself said Thursday, Americans can’t wait 14 months for the next presidential election. They’re living week to week, paycheck to paycheck,” the Post said. “They need help, and they need it now.”
The Daily News attacked Weprin, saying voters should tell local Democratic bosses to “take their schlub and stuff it.”
The New York Times endorsed the Democrat, saying Turner’s pledge to cut budgets and taxes while leaving Medicare and Social Security payments alone “would take a magician, not a businessman.”
The District 9 election stands in stark contrast to the special election in upstate New York’s heavily Republican 26th District that took place on May 24. That seat also had been left vacant after its incumbent resigned because of sexual misconduct — married GOP member Chris Lee had trawled CraigsList looking for partners. It was won by Democrat Kathy Hochul, whose campaign played heavily on fears of cuts to Medicare and Social Security.
But those issues, though still seen as important by voters, have taken a back seat to Israel in District 9.
The special election is one of two taking place on Tuesday. The second, to replace Nevada GOP Rep. Dean Heller, who was appointed to the Senate after the resignation of Sen. John Ensign, is in a strong Republican district. GOP candidate Mark Amodei leads Democrat Kate Marshall by 13 percentage points in the latest PPP poll.
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