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PRUDEN: Looking for omens among the winners in N.Y. race

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 13, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION

The race to fill the vacant House seat of disgraced Anthony D. Weiner in New York City, to be won or lost Tuesday, should hold no special significance. The Republicans aren't particularly hard up for another vote in the House, and the district will disappear when district boundaries are rewritten later this year. No advantage of incumbency is at stake.

But it matters a lot in Washington, where strategists for both parties turn over every rock, twig and manhole cover to discern omens, hints and intimations. The polls suggest a mighty upset in the making; some of them show Bob Turner, the Republican candidate, leading David Weprin, a state assemblyman and the Democratic candidate, by 6 points. That's well outside the margin of error. Worse, another poll shows Mr. Turner leading among independents by 58 percent to 26 percent, and even among Democrats, he's winning an astonishing 29 percent. Among the 37 percent of the voters who say U.S. support for Israel is important - mostly but by no means all of them Jews - the Republican candidate leads by 71 percent to 22 percent.

A Republican result on election night, never mind a rout, would be shocking indeed. The power of the quake felt at the White House would far exceed the wimpy little tremor of a fortnight ago that only rattled a few dishes and cracked an occasional wall in Washington. But the Republicans don't have to win the special election to send a message from the district that straddles the line between Brooklyn and Queens. Most of the Republicans anybody sees in this district are visitors, and a close result would have to be interpreted, even by the New York Times, as a rebuke to President Obama and a message to frightened Democrats that Mr. Obama could drag a lot of them to oblivion with him. Nobody likes oblivion.

Not only that, but such a result would demonstrate a deep fracture of the Jewish vote, which has always been reliably Democratic in New York and everywhere else, no matter that faithless yellow dogs have been yapping (and occasionally nipping) at the heels of the Jews for years.

There's a good Republican prospect in Nevada as well, where the Democratic candidate started the race burning barns, accusing her Republican opponent, Mark Amodei, of supporting cuts in federal entitlement programs. WhenMr. Amodeireplied in kind, with the help of a $600,000 contribution from the Republican congressional campaign committee, that she supported ObamaCare, the Democratic campaign collapsed. Now Democrats might consider whether they miscalculated and voters really do mean it when they say they're willing to sacrifice if that's what it takes to move America back from the edge of the abyss. Mr. Amodei goes into Election Day the unexpected heavy favorite.

The Republicans are playing smart ball, just as they did in Massachusetts last year, telling Washington to send big money, not big mouths. The big mules - John A. Boehner and Eric Cantor first among them - stayed home. Mr. Turner is not exactly a stealth candidate, but he understands that all politics is local and that winners play it that way. He got the endorsement of Ed Koch, the former Democratic mayor who has become highly suspicious of national Democrats over recent years, and maybe most important of all, he made himself Israel's best friend in the race. Israel is local issue No. 1 in certain neighborhoods in New York, and the 9th Congressional District is one of them. David Weprin is Jewish, and Bob Turner is not, and Mr. Turner has succeeded in selling the notion that better a righteous Gentile than a nice but bashful Jew.

Nothing marks this as a Republican pickup, but making the race a referendum on Barack Obama's performance as president, which Bob Turner has done, shows the president's 2012 vulnerability in bright relief. "This [race] will be a rejection of his policies that have stifled the district," says Edward Cox, the chairman of the New York Republican Party. "Maybe Democrats can save the situation by funneling hundreds of thousands of money in vicious ads - maybe that will work in this Democratic district, but they are already embarrassed by the fact that they've had to do it that way."

The implications in the race in Nevada are not necessarily about electing a new Republican congressman, either. The wise men are watching the results for clues to the prospects of the two candidates for the U.S. Senate next year. The Democrats have to win that race if they want to keep their majority, now down to four seats. The night could be a big one.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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