“Can you pitch in?” Jeremy Bird urged in an email message. With just three days remaining before Tuesday’s special election to replace former Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner, President Obama’s national field director issued a desperate call for volunteers to help the party’s candidate.
New York’s Ninth Congressional District, which encompasses parts of Queens and Brooklyn, is heavily Democratic. Yet Democrats fear losing the vacant seat to Republican Bob Turner, a retired cable network executive and political novice.
Few predicted that Democratic State Assemblyman David Weprin would have to work hard to replace Weiner. After all, he has all the advantages: backing from the party’s political machine and powerful labor unions, lots of cash (about $450,000 through the end of August, plus big cash infusions from party organizations) and name recognition (his father, Saul, was speaker of the state Assembly and a longtime Queens elected official).
Despite those advantages, Democrats in New York and Washington are worried — for good reason. A nonpartisan Siena College poll released September 9 puts Turner six points ahead of Weprin. Just one month ago, Weprin led Turner in the polls.
Turner’s strategy has been to link Weprin to the president, in his attempt to make Tuesday’s election a referendum on Obama’s presidency. Democrats acknowledge that losing Weiner’s former seat to a Republican would be a huge symbolic victory for Obama’s GOP foes. So they have responded by pouring large money into Weprin’s coffers for ads that identify Turner as a Tea Party-backed candidate who threatens Social Security and Medicare.
These 11th-hour tactics come as two of New York’s major newspapers recently endorsed Turner: the New York Post and the Daily News. (The New York Times endorsed Weprin.) And notable Democratic Jewish politicians, former Mayor Edward Koch and state Assemblyman Dov Hikind, also announced that they back Turner, who is Roman Catholic.
Indeed, Weprin, who is an Orthodox Jew, has lost support among Jews in the districts — typically reliable Democratic voters. Koch exhorted Jewish voters in the ninth district to protest Obama’s Israeli policy by voting for Turner, the Republican. In May, the president suggested that Israel should return to its pre-1967 borders to move stalled Middle East peace talks forward.
At the same time, some Orthodox Jewish leaders abandoned Weprin because he voted in favor of passing New York’s same-sex marriage law.
In the countdown to the special election, Bird, of Obama’s staff, warned that it would be a close race. “We’re going to need all hands on deck to get out the vote for Assemblyman David Weprin,” he stated in his email.
Weprin’s camp hopes that Obama’s New York supporters will volunteer in huge numbers to do the legwork needed to help the Democrat win this critical election, as a loss to the GOP could reflect badly on the president.