Why the Dems Are Worried About the Race for Anthony Weiner’s Seat

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Photo: Wikipedia/Bob Turner for Congress

It's not because their guy has a penchant for naughty texts. Bob Turner and David Weprin are the politicians duking it out for Weiner's seat in a September 13 special election. Weprin is the Democrat, and historically that means he should have had a massive advantage in Brooklyn–Queens's Ninth District, which includes Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, and parts of Flatbush and Sheepshead Bay. But the race is surprisingly close this year. A Siena Research Institute poll released in August showed Weprin up by a mere six points; Turner's camp released an internal poll yesterday that showed the pair tied, while the Democrats countered today with one of their own that shows Weprin ahead by eight. Internal polls should be taken with a grain of salt, of course, but Democrats are reportedly angry that the race is as close as it is. “Unless something suddenly shifts significantly, this is a crapshoot," a Democratic consultant told Politico. "I don’t think either side knows what is going to happen.” Below, a few theories on why Weprin might have missed the layup:

1. He's a bad candidate. Weprin has plenty of cash; the problem is, well, the votes. On paper, he's a great candidate — the son of an assembly speaker who only wants to raise taxes on the super-rich and protect Medicare. In practice, he's a clunker. Not only is he damaged by his close association with the party's "machine," which also elevated the now-embarrassing Weiner, but he's made plenty of avoidable mistakes. Politico:


Weprin ... has made a series of recent missteps that have jeopardized his candidacy. This week alone, Weprin told the New York Daily News that the national debt is $4 trillion, rather than $14 trillion, and unexpectedly bowed out of a scheduled debate, blaming the already passed Hurricane Irene — errors that have earned days of ribbing in the New York City tabloids.

2. It's about Israel. The race is so close, another theory goes, because of Turner's strong support for Israel in the heavily Jewish district. Although Turner is Catholic and Weprin an Orthodox Jew, for instance, Turner got the endorsement of the Jewish Voice, which also singled out Weprin's support of gay marriage.

It's not that Weprin isn't a strong supporter of Israel — it's an issue he highlights on his campaign site — but Turner goes a step farther. As Ed Koch put it to the Times, "the election of Mr. Turner would serve as a rebuke to Mr. Obama for saying that Israel’s pre-1967 border should be the basis for a peace agreement."

3. It's the economy, stupid. Weprin, meanwhile, has the Times' editorial board's support; they aren't fans of Turner's plan to cut Medicare and Social Security funding. That's the other theory on the race: that's it's a post-debt-ceiling debate indicator of which way the winds are blowing on the economy. Turner secured the Daily News's endorsement, which gave a warmer mention to his fiscally conservative stance on the federal debt, along with his Israel views. (The Times' endorsement, which said Turner's budget plan would "take a magician" to enact, inspired a particularly odd bit of back-and-forth between the campaigns, which started with Weprin hiring a magician to attend a Turner fund-raiser in costume, and ended in Turner telling Weprin to go back to Hogwarts.)

4. It's about Obama. Whether it's about Israel or the economy, it's hard not to interpret this as a referendum on Obama, as least in part, and an early indication on how the Jewish vote might skew slightly farther right than usual in 2012. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why the national party has gotten involved in the race: Jeremy Bird, field director for Obama for America, sent out an e-mail blast last evening asking for volunteers to phone-bank on behalf of Weprin. The DCCC has sent help in the form of consultants. Joe Lieberman, a clear friend of Israel, has shown up at fund-raising events. Nancy Pelosi personally donated to the campaign. Yet for his part, Weprin hasn't exactly been overeager to attach himself to the president, who is not polling well in the district: He refused to say whether he'd vote for Obama when asked directly by a reporter. Ouch.

Turner, meanwhile, has bootstrapped up in the polls, largely without the same level of attention from the national party. A third of his funding comes from personal loans, and the National Republican Congressional Committee gave him just $5,000, compared with the $400,000 they dropped on a losing candidate in N.Y. 26 earlier this year.

Even if Weprin pulls out a victory, Democrats have had to devote unexpected attention and resources to a race that (a) should have been a cakewalk, (b) hasn't similarly drained Republican coffers, and (c) shouldn't have happened in the first place. One more thing to blame on Anthony Weiner, the one thing that might unite N.Y. 9 right now.

This post has been corrected to remove a reference to Sheldon Silver, who supports Weprin, not Turner.

Earlier: Could a Republican Be Elected to Fill Weiner’s Seat?
In the Race to Succeed Weiner, a Surprising Anger at Obama [NYT]
Fight for Anthony Weiner's old seat sparks Dem worries [Politico]
In House Race, Democrat Is Far Ahead in Fund-Raising [NYT]