Message from the Ninth Congressional District
September 14th, 2011
With Republican Bob Turner preparing for his swearing in as the new representative from New York’s ninth district theories are flying as to how the Democrats managed to lose a seat they have held for 90 years and what, if anything, it means.
Turner, who hammered away at government spending during his campaign, told his victory party that he won because of Barack Obama, “We’ve been asked by people of this district to send a message to Washington and I hope they hear it loud and clear,” Turner said. “This message will resound for a whole year.”
The White House, not surprisingly begs to differ. Asked about the result, press secretary Jay Carney said, “Special elections are often unique and their outcomes don’t tell you very much about future regularly scheduled elections… You can make those predictions and look foolish in 14 months or not, I’m simply saying we do not view them that way [as a referendum].”
Overall Democrats tried to paint the outcome as the result of a number of largely local factors while Republicans and Conservatives saw it as a piece of a bigger picture. It’s the dance that takes place after almost every special election – though the parties switch partners as circumstances change.
More comments and reactions after the jump.
So, cautioning against viewing the outcome as a sign that Democrats nationally are in trouble. Sen. Charles Schumer told a press conference, “It’s not a bellwether district, and trying to read what any specific group or any specific person did does not make sense.”
Israel emerged as a major issue in the contest after former Mayor Ed Koch – who nominally remains a Democrat – called on voters to elect Turner to convey their unhappiness on Obama’s policy toward Israel. (Weprin is hardly the most demonstrative of politicians but we have to guess this drove the candidate – an observant Jew whose children have studied in Israel and who has visited the country frequently – crazy.”)
Here, too, Democrats rejected the idea that the vote was a referendum. At the same press conference, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the Florida Democrat who chairs the Democratic National Committee, praised Obama’s “strong record” on Israel and said Jews would continue to support Democrats in general and Obama in particular.
Putting these larger issues aside, some Democrats blamed their candidate and the party bosses, notably Queen Democratic chief Rep. Joe Crowley, who selected him (there are no primaries in special elections).
“They picked a candidate, rested on their laurels and wrote off Brooklyn,” an anonymous elected official http://www.cityhallnews.com/2011/09/after-weprin-loss-queens-democratic-party-faces-hard-questions/ told City Hall’s Adam Lisberg.
Rather than choosing a candidate who might appeal to Working Families Party voters, Lisberg, wrote, Crowley selected “a party man who might also be viable in a heavily Jewish district over several more dynamic candidates – in part because Weprin was deemed the least likely to challenge Crowley if the district was eliminated in redistricting.”
The outcome indicated not only the shortcomings of Queens Democrats in particular but of the special election process – and the Democrats’ use of it, Michael Powell commented in the Times. Instead of letting their be a party primary, Powell said, Gov. Andrew Cuomo “handed the choice to Rep. Joseph Crowley and the Queens Democratic Party machine, which has bequeathed to us such worthies as the now-imprisoned State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi. Mr. Crowley quickly handpicked Mr. Weprin, an unassuming member of the State Assembly. All so sweet, except that when the voters got into the act, they overturned the Democratic banquet table and chose a Republican businessman. Is it any wonder that the Democrats in 2013 will be marking 20 years without a Democratic mayor?”
Queens Republican Bart Haggerty took a somewhat more nuanced view. Sure, he told Lisberg, the Democratic ran a bad campaign – but the loss also shows that Democrats – even in blue areas – are vulnerable.
“They chose a very safe candidate. We chose a candidate who no one thought was going to win,” Haggerty said. “What this proves is being nominated by the party and spending more money does not necessarily mean you win. It leaves a lot of people scratching their heads, saying, ‘If we can win this district, if the Republicans can win this district, then we have to think about what else is on the table.’”
Turner backers did see a larger message in his victory – but what that message was depended largely on which backer you asked. To the Republican Jewish Coalition, it was a sign that Obama, who overwhelmingly carried the Jewish vote in 2008, could face problems with this constituency next year. “This Republican win in an overwhelmingly Democrat district is a significant indicator of the problem that President Obama has in the Jewish community,” the coalition said, adding this could spell trouble for the president in a number of key states, including Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.”
Jennifer Rubin, in the Right Turn blog for the Washington Post, agreed, writing, “Might it be that the perfect storm — a rotten economy, an incompetent president and an administration uniquely hostile toward the Jewish state and inept in Middle East policy — might actually separate a chunk of the Jewish electorate from its historic fixation with the Democratic Party? Now that remains to be seen, but the signs are pointing in that direction.”
A few Democrats did see a larger message — but not the one Turner wanted to send. Instead, they say, the vote indicates Obama needs to move to the left. “I truly believe that this is solely and completely the result of Dem leadership, primarily at the WH, repeatedly dissing the base and not being stronger on stimulus,” Queens native Cynthia Kouril wrote on Firedog Lake.
And she’s not the only one. Politico reports that even before the polls closed – but when most already predicted Turner would win – Democrats were expressing disappointment with the president. In a campaign conference call of donors and strategists, people indicated they felt “betrayed, disappointed, furious, disgusted, hopeless,” one source told Politico.
The Daily Beasts’ John Avlon also saw a larger trend – but not one that give much comfort to Republican. “The takeaway is that voters are angry at the status quo and looking to send a wake-up call to Washington. Republicans can take comfort from the fact that they can make gains even in some northeast urban enclaves. Democrats should remember that the problem with President Obama’s popularity isn’t that he is seen as too centrist—no matter what liberals say. And all incumbents should be uneasy,” he said.
Oh – and as to the conventional wisdom that the mustachioed candidate (Weprin) will always lose, the intrepid Liz Benjamin got a response from Aaron Perlut of the American Mustache Institute. It read, in part: “By not sending another Mustached American to Congress … the American people and the voters of New York have robbed themselves of Mustached American-laden leadership, rugged good looks, and the ability to cut through pork belly appropriations and the weak-kneed spirit that plagues our current congressional representation. A sad day indeed.”By Gail Robinson on September 14, 2011, 2:45 pm
In category: Electoral Politics, Gotham City | 2 Comments »