Bob Turner, a Queens businessman, crushed the presumptive heir to Anthony Weiner's vacated House seat yesterday, winning the 9th Congressional District by a margin of more than eight percent (with 84 percent of districts counted just after midnight). Republicans are characterizing the special election victory as a stern rebuke of President Obama, and a sign that White House is theirs for the taking. Turner's opponent, David Weprin, has not yet formally conceded, but last night Turner told his exultant supporters:
We have lit one candle today. It’s going to be a bonfire pretty soon. We’ve been asked by the people of this district to send a message to Washington — and I hope they hear it loud and clear: Mr. President, we are on the wrong track. We've had it with your irresponsible fiscal policy which endangers the entire economy and every one of our social safety nets. We have had it with your treatment of Israel... We are unhappy. I am the messenger. Heed us.
As you can see in the video below, Turner's Israel comment got the biggest cheer during the victory speech, and some analysts believe Turner's focus on Obama's Israel policies proved decisive in the heavily Jewish district. Former Mayor Ed Koch threw his support behind Turner early in the race, urging the former TV executive to forcefully repudiate Obama's call for the creation of a Palestinian state along the borders which existed before the 1967 Six Day War. (This didn't differ much from President Clinton's policy, but Obama was the first to publicly announce it.) Weprin also struggled to win over Orthodox Jewish voters because of his support for marriage equality.
Other analysts see the Republican victory less as an omen for Obama's reelection bid than as a failure of the Queens Democratic machine. "They picked a candidate, rested on their laurels and wrote off Brooklyn," one frustrated Democratic elected official tells City Hall News, which has an insightful analysis of the upset. "Everybody knows special elections are difficult," says County Clerk Audrey Pheffer. "Is this something Obama will look at as a reflection on him? Does he realize that? Or was this just a TV producer who knew how to spin things? He took one statement from Koch and turned it into a campaign."
But voter dissatisfaction with the wrecked economy—a potentially fatal millstone that George W. Bush hung around Obama's neck—cannot be denied. One Queens voter told the Times yesterday, "I am a registered Democrat, I have always been a registered Democrat, I come from a family of Democrats — and I hate to say this, I voted Republican. I need to send a message to the president that he’s not doing a very good job. Our economy is horrible. People are scared." And who better to get us out of this mess than the party that got us into it? Perry 2012!