Republican Bob Turner pulled off a stunning upset Tuesday to win a special election to fill the seat vacated by disgraced former Rep. Anthony D. Weiner, reversing decades of Democratic control in the New York City district.
Mr. Turner, who was considered a longshot earlier this summer, was declared the winner of New York’s 9th Congressional District with 53 percent of the vote compared with Democrat David Weprin’s 47 percent, with about 75 percent of the district’s precincts reporting.
The GOP also won in Nevada, where Republican Mark Amodei was declared the winner in a special election over Democrat Kate Marshall in the state’s 2nd Congressional District, a strongly GOP district that has never elected a Democrat.
Mr. Amodei, who held a 20 percentage-point lead over Ms. Marshall with about two-thirds of the precincts counted, will replace former Rep. Dean Heller, who was appointed to the Senate in May after Republican Sen. John Ensign resigned amid a sex scandal.
National Republican leaders were quick to declare Tuesday’s race results — especially the New York contest — as a referendum on President Obama and his policies.
“Tonight New Yorkers have delivered a strong warning to the Democrats who control the levers of power in our federal government,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “It’s time to scrap the failed ‘stimulus’ agenda and the misguided policies on Israel and focus on getting America back to creating jobs again.”
“This clear rebuke of President Obama’s policies delivers a blow to Democrats’ goal of making Nancy Pelosi the speaker again,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican.
“New Yorkers put Washington Democrats on notice that voters are losing confidence in a President whose policies assault job-creators and affront Israel.”
In this year’s race, Mr. Weprin had a significantly larger campaign war chest, the firepower of the New York City Democratic Party and an electorate in which Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 3-to-1.
But despite the advantages, Mr. Weprin trailed Mr. Turner by 6 percentage points in an independent Siena College poll last week — a result that even Republicans would’ve found almost unimaginable only weeks earlier.
Mr. Obama won the district, which includes parts of Brooklyn and Queens, by 11 percentage points in 2008. But dissatisfaction with the president among the district’s mix of socially conservative Catholics and Jewish voters has weighed on the Weprin campaign.
In an attempt to revive a hotly contested debate from the 2010 elections, the GOP sent district voters a mailer depicting a mosque superimposed over the ground zero site. At the bottom of the card is a head shot of Mr. Weprin and the quote, “I support the right of the mosque to build … .” Mr. Turner, a retired media executive, also ran an advertisement criticizing Mr. Weprin’s position on the mosque debate.
A bevy of political and New York celebrities also have rushed to help Mr. Turner, with real estate tycoon Donald Trump and former New York Mayors Rudolph W. Giuliani, a Republican, and Ed Koch, a Democrat, all recording robo-calls on behalf of the Republican.
Republicans also tried to frame the contest, with its expected low turnout, as a referendum on the Obama administration, despite the district’s atypical demographics and unique issues.
Democrats countered with cash and an aggressive get-out-the-vote effort. The Weprin campaign spent about $750,000 in TV ads, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the fundraising arm of House Democrats — contributing about two-thirds of the amount, a senior Democratic aide said.
Mr. Weprin had raised almost $451,000 and had more than $202,000 in available cash as of Aug. 24, the latest campaign-finance records showed. Mr. Turner had raised about $204,000 and had almost $94,000 in cash during the same period.
The Democratic Party also enlisted two of its stars, former President Bill Clinton and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to record phone calls for Mr. Weprin. And Democrats are relying on organized labor and other affiliated groups to bring voters to the polls.
But Mr. Weprin had some publicized missteps along the campaign trail. The influential New York Daily News immediately seized on a mistake he made in a meeting last month with its editorial board, which asked about the size of the national debt. Mr. Weprin’s answer of $4 trillion was more than $10 trillion short of the true number.
The Democrat then dropped out of a debate with Mr. Turner at the last minute, citing logistical problems owing to Hurricane Irene. But many thought the true motive for his no-show was embarrassment over the Daily News gaffe.
Mr. Weprin also upset many Orthodox Jews in the district for his support of a same-sex marriage bill while serving in the state Legislature.
The winner will fill the rest of Mr. Weiner’s term, which runs through January 2013. The Democrat resigned in June after he acknowledged he had sexually changed online relationships with several women.
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Sean Lengell covers Congress and national politics and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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