Bob Turner Wins New York 09 Special Election

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A Republican snagged Anthony Weiner's seat, taking the district for the GOP for the first time since 1923

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Updated 11:59 p.m.
QUEENS, N.Y. -- With more than half of precincts reporting, retired media executive and Republican Bob Turner beat New York State Assemblyman David Weprin in the special election to fill the congressional seat vacated by Anthony Weiner Tuesday in an upset capture of a solidly Democratic seat last in GOP hands in 1923. Results from 329 of 512 precincts in the 9th congressional district -- a largely white ethnic, middle- to upper-middle class community that spans parts of Queens and Brooklyn -- found Turner leading 53 percent to 47 percent over Weprin.

"I've seen enough, it's done...now very comfortable making this projection: Bob Turner (R) defeats David Weprin (D) in #NY09" concluded Dave Wasserman, the U.S. House editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, as early results trickled in and before the Associated Press called it for Turner. Observed Nate Silver of The New York Times, "A crude extrapolation from borough-wide results would have Turner winning this by about 10 points."

The race, like many special election contests, had become a closely watched as national party analysts on both sides of the aisle predicted it would show just how damaged President Obama is as the economy continues its years-long stall. Democrats had begun pre-spinning a potential Weprin loss after a Siena College poll showed him trailing Friday, seeking to cast it as nothing more than a quirky election with a bad candidate before an Israel-obsessed Queens electorate. But Turner's surge in the district once held by Sen. Chuck Schumer and one-time vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro also offers a cautionary tale.

"This is not a district that Republicans have any right to believe we could win," said House Speaker John Boehner before polls closed at 9 pm EST. Democrats hold a three-to-one registration advantage in the 9th.

In many ways, the compressed special election triggered by Weiner's resignation produced a strange race. Weprin repeatedly attempted to paint Turner  as what New York State Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi described Tuesday as "a scary, scary guy [who] wants to cut Medicare and Social Security." Picked to go on the ballot by the Queens Democratic machine, Weprin was at times an uncertain candidate, though his performance on the stump improved by the end. Which candidate would be the more adamant friend to Israel in the House was a constant debate, with Weprin, who an Orthodox Jew, charging Turner, a Catholic, with being a recent convert to the cause. But in the end the Queens machine led by Rep. Joe Crowley wasn't able to muscle Weprin, who didn't spark much enthusiasm amongst the Democratic base, toward a solid showing.

Ling Tsou, a leader of the Hell's Kitchen branch of Organizing for America, pretty much summed up sentiment on the Democratic Tuesday side after organizing an election eve phonebank for Weprin.

"I think Anthony Weiner was a really progressive voice in Congress," she said. Then she paused. "And David Weprin is the Democratic candidate."

The strangeness continued right into Election Day. During last-minute campaigning Tuesday, Turner served Weprin with papers alleging improprieties with absentee ballots.

One of the major issues in the race was U.S. policy towards Israel. Weprin, a former city councilman from a prominent Queens political family, repeatedly came under attack for President Obama's Mideast policy, and in particular Obama's call in May for negotiations over Israel to use the country's pre-1967 boundaries as a starting point. The so-called Ground Zero Mosque also made an appearance in the race, with Turner framing Weprin as a supporter -- even though Weprin has advocated moving the building to a place "less offensive to 9/11 families."

To be sure, passions on the Israel issue ran high. Late Thursday night, waiting for the candidates to show at a forum at the Bet Shaul U'Miriam synagogue in Brooklyn's Midwood neighborhood, an Orthodox Jewish man loudly railed about Schumer and the Democratic Party for holding a late Friday afternoon fundraiser that blocked a neighborhood street, making it so that locals couldn't get home in time for Shabbos. "Everyone that hates Israel, that hates America, votes Democrat,"  he said.

But while Obama's Israel policy certainly mattered here, it mattered most to just a small slice of the district. One-third of the 9th is Jewish, and an even smaller percentage of them are Orthodox. The Turner campaign micro-targeted those voters in hopes angry Orthodox Jewish residents would be enough to make him a congressman.

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Nancy Scola is a writer based in New York. She has written for New York, Salon, and Seed, and is a frequent contributor to The American Prospect.

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