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In a stunning upset, the race for New York’s 9th Congressional District, originally perceived as a slam-dunk for Democratic political machine candidate David Weprin, was won by Republican Bob Turner. Turner, a former TV executive and political novice, is the first Republican to represented the district — in which Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 3-1 margin — since 1923. And despite attempts by Democratic political operative to put the onus on Weprin for running a bad campaign, much like they did when Martha Coakley lost to Scott Brown in Massachusetts, it is far likelier this vote is exactly what it was predicted to be: a referendum on Barack Obama and his dreadful handling of the economy.
The race was necessitated by the resignation of Anthony Weiner, now famous for the “sexting” scandal that drove him from his seat. It was a precipitous fall for the former Congressman, who had relished his role as one of the Democratic Party’s high-profile media warriors and had designs on the mayorship of New York City. Yesterday it was revealed that Mr. Weiner was moving out of the neighborhood that sent him to Congress six times, re-locating to a rental apartment in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. The normally loquacious ex-Congressman refused to comment on either the move or his future plans. Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf underscored Weiner’s current reality. “He is gone from the game for the immediate future,” said Sheinfopf. “This move means no local office hopes.”
There are other things that may be gone in the immediate future. The 9th Congressional District itself is in jeopardy due to the reality that New York is losing two seats in the House of Representatives based on sluggish population growth reflected in the 2010 Census. The state’s population growth paled in comparison to other states, such as Texas, Idaho and Utah, where growth approached a robust 20 percent in recent years. The decline marks the seventh census in a row where New York has lost seats. Ironically, much of that loss has been directly attributable to the tax-and-spend policies championed by Democrats, which have saddled New Yorkers with either the first or second highest state-local tax burden in the nation for over three decades.
There is no question such policies, currently exacerbated by the president’s most recent pivot to jobs, was a critical factor in the race. Even though the 9th CD is largely white and middle class, it is likely a substantial number of voters recognized that the state with the 15th highest median household income in the nation, one in which the engine of their economy is Wall Street, would take a disproportional hit from a jobs plan financed primarily by raising taxes on people making $200,000-250,000. In New York City, such an income level is attainable by a policeman married to a teacher, neither of whom is likely to consider themselves “rich.”
This reality was reflected in a Siena College survey of the district released last Friday which revealed that 54 percent of likely voters had an unfavorable view of the president. Even more devastating, nearly three-in-four said the country was headed in the wrong direction. A Democratic poll was equally daunting. The president’s approval rating is down to 31 percent in a district Obama won by a 55 percent margin in 2008.
Largely as a result of this data, Weprin tried to distance himself from the president. Campaign literature distributed by the State Democratic Committee listed endorsements by several prominent state Democrats, including Gov. Cuomo and Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. Conversely, Mr. Obama’s name was nowhere to be found. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who stumped for Weprin last weekend, underscored Democratic concerns. “If you want to send a message to Obama, call the White House,” she said. “If you want a great congressman that will fight for the district, vote for Weprin.”
Yet, as the race turned from a 48-42 Weprin lead to a 50-44 edge for Turner, it was Democrats desperately attempting to send a message to the voters immediately prior to the election. A race in which the candidates had raised a combined total of $654,755 by late August was hit with $500,000 from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for a final advertising campaign, and House Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC, spent at least $100,000 on an ad hammering Turner for his “Tea Party” ties. Democrats also enlisted party heavyweights Governor Cuomo and former President Bill Clinton to record robocalls for Weprin.
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