Real Clear Politics
Three months after Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner resigned his seat for sending vulgar pictures of himself to women on the Internet, businessman Bob Turner became the first Republican in nearly a century to be elected to Congress from New York’s 9th district, delivering a simple but sharp message to the White House that voters here will not be taken for granted.
A few minutes past midnight, after the race had been called for Turner, the 70-year-old retired cable television executive addressed a crowd of supporters, most of them wearing black velvet yarmulkes, at the Roma View Restaurant.
“I’m telling you, I am the messenger — heed us,” said Turner. “This message will resound into 2012. We only hope our voices are heard and we can start putting things right again.”
Turner defeated prominent Queens Democrat David Weprin, 54 percent to 46 percent. Initially, the race was expected to be an easy win for the district’s long-entrenched Democratic machine. Democrats outnumber Republicans here by a 3-to-1 margin, and voters chose Barack Obama over John McCain in 2008 by 11 points. Weiner held the seat for a dozen years. And Weprin was a tested candidate whose family has long been involved in Queens politics.
Turner and his supporters credited Democrat and popular former Mayor Ed Koch with turning that dynamic around. Koch, along with Democratic assemblyman Dov Hinkin, crossed party lines to endorse Turner, citing concerns about Obama’s support for a return to Israel’s pre-1967 borders. Israel became a significant issue in this race, as the district holds one of the largest Jewish populations in the country.
“President Obama, who is a nice guy and I helped elect him, he threw Israel under the bus,” Koch said at Turner’s election night party. “We can turn this election into a referendum. And we did, you did!”
Weprin, the Democrat, is an Orthodox Jew who has notably broken with Obama on Israel. He has visited the Jewish state eight times, but many in the Orthodox community were concerned that Weprin would side with the White House as a congressman and were also upset with his support of New York’s gay marriage law.
Despite Weprin’s rejection of this premise — he told RCP on Tuesday, “I’m glad [Turner] came around to my policy. The difference is that it’s been my policy my whole life and it’s been his policy for 18 months, that’s the difference” — he wasn’t able to take control of that part of the narrative.
But Israel wasn’t the only issue in the race, and it’s important to note that Orthodox Jews here tend to vote more conservatively on a number of issues. The economy, which is the dominant theme of the presidential election, was also at the forefront, and many voters said their frustration with the Obama administration prompted them to cast their ballots as they did.
“We have to get the current regime out,” said one voter exiting a polling station in Turner’s neighborhood, part of this quaint beach town that trends Republican.