In Tuesday night's special election to replace Anthony Weiner, the New York congressman brought down by his extramarital Facebook chats, Democrats lost a seat they've held for 90 years. Naturally, they insist the loss means nothing--the results "are not reflective of what will happen in November 2012," Representative Steve Israel of Long Island said, according to The New York Times' Michael D. Shear. And Republicans, of course, insist their win means everything. "This clear rebuke of President Obama’s policies delivers a blow to Democrats' goal of making Nancy Pelosi the speaker again," Representative Pete Sessions of Texas said. While the results obviously don't predict what will happen in 2012, most people say they're a bad omen for Democrats. But why it's bad omen is still in dispute.
Why were Democrats crushed? A breakdown of the competing theories:
Democrats prefer this one. Democrat David Weprin is a state legislator from an important Democratic family; his opponent, Bob Turner, is a charismatic outsider--a former producer for the Jerry Springer show. Weprin made a few gaffes--for example, even though Washington was obsessed with the debt ceiling all summer, he still underestimated the size of the national debt by $10 trillion. Politico's Dan Hirschhorn and Alex Isenstadt note that Weprin also skipped a a debate, using Hurricane Irene as an excuse even though the storm had already passed. But Turner made some mistakes too, like saying he'd never met a tax loophole he didn't like.
The Brooklyn and Queens district has a lot of Orthodox Jewish voters, and a majority of them disapprove of Obama's job performance, a recent poll found. And Turner portrayed Weprin as agreeing with Obama that Israel should return to its pre-1967 borders. Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch urged voters to "send [Obama] a message" on his Israel policy--even though Weprin, an Orthodox Jew himself, opposed the idea of using the 1967 borders as a starting point for negotiations with Palestinians.
The plurality of voters--32 percent--said the economic recovery was the most important factor in their vote. Voters blame a bad economy on the guy in office, and Turner exploited that, The Atlantic's Nancy Scola explains, handing out flyers with a photo of Obama chilling in the Oval Office over the tag line, "Obama thinks he can fix the economy on a bus. He already threw Israel under it."