The battle for Anthony Weiner's former congressional seat has come to a close. Republican Bob Turner declared victory over Democrat David Weprin's shortly after midnight, confirming his small but consistent lead in the polls.
"Tonight we sent a message," Turner said as he declared victory in Howard Beach.
He will be the district's first Republican congressman in nearly 90 years. For that reason, politicians of all stripes were watching the race despite the fact that N.Y.-9 might end up getting redistricted out of existence very soon. The special election was a potential canary in the coal mine for Obama's 2012 prospects, and perhaps a useful predictor of which way some of next year's open Senate races might go.
Turner did his best to make it that way. He repeatedly told voters this was a chance to express their dismay about the economy. And especially about Obama's Israel policy.
"America has always been Israel's ally," said 28-year-old Lilianna Zulunova outside a Forrest Hills polling station this afternoon. It was the first time she'd voted for a Republican, but she thought a vote for Weprin (himself an observant Jew) was basically a vote for Obama. "I doubt the Jewish community will support [Obama] this time at all," she added.
Zulunova, like many in the district, was angry about Obama's statement that the pre-1967 border with Palestine should be the jumping-off point for negotiations. Ed Koch, the former Democratic mayor of New York and a strong Israel supporter, echoed that point loudly.
Republicans operatives, of course, were more than happy to chime in as the surprisingly positive poll numbers for Turner came pouring in — especially when paired with negative feelings for Obama. (The president has a 37 percent approval rating in the district.) One late-campaign poll showed 32 percent of likely Democratic voters casting a ballot for the Republican.
Even Weprin knew he had to distance himself from Obama. He helpfully walked us through his tortured thought process: “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.”
There are some important caveats, of course, against reading too much into Weprin's poor result. He is not the most sparkling of candidates, for one thing — look no further than his mangling of the Obama question. (His dancing is a whole other story, almost as fascinating as his Inspector Clouseau mustache.) The district has lately been more conservative than its congressmen. It's also too demographically unusual to draw truly broad conclusions: The 40 percent Jewish population might make it important for sussing out which way the wind is blowing with Jewish voters, and might be predictive of certain key counties in Florida and other important battleground states, but it isn't a particularly representative cross-section of America. Obama won the district by just eleven points in 2008, Nate Silver points out — meaning that a whole lot of registered Democrats didn't like him then.
Their opinion doesn't seem to have improved.
Additional reporting by Chadwick Matlin.