Koch Sparks Turner Win; Has Dems Uneasy With Obama
No official or unofficial results of last week’s huge upset by Republican Bob Turner over David Weprin in the 9th CD election have been issued yet, but a press report states that the 70-year-old challenger had scored a very narrow six percent victory in succeeding Anthony Weiner as the new congressmember.
The Board of Elections is still conducting its count of the balloting and is expected to release it shortly.
But Turner and congressional Republicans wasted no time swearing Turner in last Thursday as the new representative of the Queens/Brooklyn district. After the oath of office was administered by House Speaker John Boehner, Turner stated, “It’s with true humility I accept this awesome responsibility and I pledge not to forget how I got here.”
Among the lawmakers who greeted Turner was Congressmember Joseph Crowley (D–Queens/The Bronx). Shaking Turner’s hand, Crowley, who doubles as the Queens Democratic Party chairman, pledged to work with the newest freshman in the House.
In New York City, at about the same time, losing candidate Assemblymember David Weprin admitted candidly that President Barack Obama’s sagging popularity had caused him to lose the special election eight days before.
Weprin explained that he tried to make the campaign about himself and Turner, but that didn’t work.
“I think that voters looked at it as a referendum on the president,” he concluded, uttering the same phrase Turner originated and used countless times during the campaign, which made it the key phrase in the winning strategy, according to most political pundits. Blaming Barack Obama for the loss were also Democrats locally and in Washington, as well as Republicans of all stripes.
Typical of the potshots taken at Obama was the assessment made by Phil Ragusa, the Queens Republican Party chairman. He stated after the race, “Bob Turner winning this race in such a heavily Democratic district like this means voters have rejected Obama’s policies and are embracing Bob Turner’s message of responsible spending and lowering tax and regulatory burdens to spur job growth.”
Without any breakdown of the official vote which would show definitively where the Democratic and Republican votes were cast, the New York Times printed a map of the 9th CD indicating the Republican vote with a black ink overlay, and the Democratic vote indicated by white areas. The middle ground was depicted by checkered areas.
For Turner: in Queens, he ran up big pluralities in usually Democratic areas such as his home district in Breezy Point at the southern tip of the Rockaways, in Rockaway Park and in Broad Channel. In Howard Beach, an area which has Democratic state legislators but a Republican councilmember, he ran very favorably. A New York Post story on Sunday confirmed this, saying the 23rd AD went 3-to-2 for Turner. At the same time, reversing the pattern, a Democrat, Phil Goldfeder, defeated Republican Jane S. Deacy to win a special election for the 23rd Assembly District seat. It had been vacated by Audrey Pheffer, a Democrat, who held the seat for about a quarter of a century.
Turner also turned around another usually heavily Democratic area, Kew Gardens Hills, which is also home to many Orthodox Jews and previously included an Anthony Weiner district office. Meanwhile, several neighboring areas, such as Forest Hills (Weiner’s former home area), Rego Park and Fresh Meadows, all heavily Democratic and Jewish upper-to-middle class areas, went solidly for Weprin.
But in Middle Village, which shares a city council district with Rego Park and Forest Hills, Turner won it with 60 percent of the vote. This working class, Catholic area was formerly part of Republican State Senator Serphin Maltese’s district for about 25 years; it was also part of a city council district that had Republican representation for many years until recently.
In the Brooklyn portion of the 9th CD, which makes up about one-third of the congressional district, Turner ran very well in most areas which are generally Democratic. This included the Ocean Parkway section, a white, upper middle class thoroughfare which includes a generally Jewish and Orthodox Jewish segment that swung to Turner because of support of the Israeli issue which emerged in the campaign because of charges that Obama was too friendly to the Palestinians. Some observers felt the Brooklyn vote put Turner over the top and swung the election to him.
When the campaign started, Weprin, a former two-term city councilmember with a heavy dose of financial investment services in his resume, appeared to have a comfortable edge over Turner. The heavy concentration of Democratic voters in the district, which gave them a 3-to-1 edge over Republicans, also made him a strong favorite.
Turner, on the other hand, was just coming off a creditable showing against Weiner in the 2010 congressional election which he lost to the longtime incumbent by only about 11 percent. That election, Turner’s first, gave him valuable voter recognition as he returned less than a year later to face the same electorate.
The move by the cagey Koch further changed matters when Turner also made the campaign a test of voter sentiment regarding Obama’s extravagant spending policies and the passage of his signature achievement of creating the Obamacare healthcare plan.
Turner’s attack on Obamacare was a continuation of the campaign he waged on the issue as part of his race against Weiner. But Koch’s endorsement and the Obamacare issue’s revival plus making the president the central target of the campaign, suddenly narrowed the odds against Turner, as the picture changed to make it a real contest.
The rapid fire pre- and early-campaign moves to help Turner appeared to put Weprin on the defensive. He was not generally aggressive during campaigning and sometimes seemed caught by surprise, such as the error in placing the national debt at $4 trillion when it actually was $14 trillion. The blunder later swung the News’ endorsement to Turner.
Turner, meanwhile, was loose and relaxed on the stump and at debates. This made it easier to get his message out, although it wasn’t hard to get listeners’ applause when you’re reminding them about the on-going recession, citing high unemployment and then following it up with your solutions.
Overall, Turner appeared to be a better campaigner than Weprin and it helped his bottom line on election day.
But, in summing up, remember Weprin lost a big edge by Koch coming into the campaign and by Koch and Turner making the election a referendum on Obama’s administration.
Weprin, meanwhile, carried the fight to Turner, exploiting the report that Turner agreed with some Republicans that there should be as much as a 35 percent cut in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Turner denied this was true, but the issue continued through the campaign. Whether the issue deterred many senior citizens to vote against Turner, we would guess that it was not as many as we might have expected.
Winning candidate Turner’s strategy to target Obama’s fiscal policies and record in the election are paying him and the GOP major dividends.
In the first instance, Koch’s endorsement of Turner on the promise that he would support Koch’s campaign to get Obama to change his unfair treatment of Israel in the Palestine negotiations— which became a key factor in Turner’s victory— is paying off handsomely.
Koch is now threatening to take his fight on Israel’s behalf nationwide, perhaps going to Florida to continue his campaign regarding Israel by rallying Jewish Democrats there to shake up Obama. Meanwhile, he’s in talks with the White House to suggest ways Obama can make peace with Israel.
Besides that, the media is beginning to ask Koch if he might switch party lines in the presidential election and endorse the Republican presidential candidate. He says he’s thinking about it.
Meanwhile, Weprin’s loss has congressional Democrats grumbling out loud that they might give the president a primary challenge next year if he doesn’t start dealing with the warning signs, including Turner’s upset victory, and to remember how he got to the White House in the first place.
Congressmember Dennis Kucinich (D–Ohio) uttered the ugly threat last week, saying a primary “would be healthy for the party”.
Another Dem lawmaker, Peter De Fazio, of Oregon, said he hears complaints from his district that Obama has to get back in the groove that got him elected three years ago. One way to do that would be the dangerous but eye-opening primary threat that would shake up Obama and his advisors.
Another bit of advice to Obama from Democratic consultant James Carville was a call for Obama to shake up his staff vigorously, to get rid of the same old faces that were there as the president slid into this mess in the first place.
Perhaps the most expert assessment about how badly hurt Weprin was by losing the election because he was linked to Obama in the campaign, came from Weprin himself two days after the shattering election results.
“I think the problem was that he’s the president and people are frustrated, and its just natural to take it out on the top guy or the top guy’s party… I think the voters looked at it as a referendum on the president,” Weprin said in a New York Post story.
Turner’s unexpected victory also boosted the Queens Republican Party organization for quietly settling an argument at their 9th CD candidate endorsement a couple of month’s ago.
Turner had already gotten the Conservative Party nomination when he went to the Republicans’ meeting. There another member seeking the nomination would not go away quietly when the party was set to nominate Turner and he was threatening to run on a third party line, which would split Turner’s vote and make it almost impossible for him to win.
But party chairman Phil Ragusa, backed by a majority of the membership, brought gentle pressure on the recalcitrant would-be congressional candidate and eased him out of running, clearing the way for Turner to have a clear shot at Weprin and eventually pull off a major upset.
Hailing Turner’s victory last week, Ragusa praised Turner, saying, “Winning this race in such a heavily Democratic district like this means voters have rejected Obama’s policies and are embracing Bob Turner’s message of responsible spending and lowering tax and regulatory burdens to spur job growth.”