Democrat David Weprin ran into an impenetrable political headwind in Tuesday's special congressional election in New York City, as voter displeasure over President Obama, issues such as same-sex marriage and Israel, and missteps along the campaign trail helped propel Republican Bob Turner to an upset victory.
Republicans portrayed the election for the seat vacated by disgraced Rep. Anthony D. Weiner as a referendum on the Obama administration and bellwether for the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
"This clear rebuke of President Obama's policies delivers a blow to Democrats' goal of making [California Democrat] Nancy Pelosi the speaker again," said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas.
Yet history has shown that special elections often are more snapshots of a district's specific demographics, unique issues and the effectiveness of each candidate. Democrats and some analysts on Wednesday said the contest this week in New York's 9th Congressional District was no exception.
Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg, whose voter survey last week predicted Mr. Turner's 6-percentage-point victory, called the contest a "perfect storm" for the GOP's benefit.
"People say this was a referendum on Obama and the economy, and for some people that was important. But ultimately races are run and lost by the candidates locally," he said.
"I think voters went in to the polls saying, 'Which of these two guys could do a better job in D.C. ... for us on the economy and the issues that me and my family and my community care about?' "
Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a margin of more than 3-to-1 in the blue-collar district, which until Tuesday hadn't elected a Republican since 1920. But the area's mix of Catholics and Orthodox Jews makes it among the most conservative districts in the city. While Mr. Obama won the district by 11 percentage points in 2008, the margin was much smaller than most other New York City districts.
Democrats were quick to point to their special election victory this year in upstate New York's 26th Congressional District, a heavily Republican area, as proof that such contests are individual affairs and not national referendums - despite spinning their victory at the time as a rebuke of the House Republican's proposed budget and Medicare reforms.
But Republicans, who also easily won a special election Tuesday in Nevada's heavily Republican-leaning 2nd Congressional District, where Republican Mark Amodei beat Democrat Kate Marshall, say the two victories shouldn't be discounted.
"There is simply no question that last night's results [in both races] are another very bad omen for big-government Democrats," said Rob Jesmer, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Even some Democrats called the New York election a "wake-up call," though they said voters are frustrated with both parties and Washington politics in general.
"It's a wake-up call to Democrats and Republicans all around that the American people want us to get to work and find solutions to the problems that we're facing [and] that the same old same old isn't going to be the case," said Rep. Joseph Crowley, a New York City Democrat.
But Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat who represented the district for 18 years, scoffed at the notion that the election was a referendum on the president or Democratic policies.
"I've never heard the 9th [Congressional District] referred to as a bellwether," Mr. Schumer said. "Anybody who tries to extrapolate, by the way, what happened in this district and what would happen in New York City, the state, state or the country [in the 2012 elections] is making a big mistake."
Mr. Weprin got into hot water with Orthodox Jewish voters in the district, which spans parts of Queens and Brooklyn, because of his support of a same-sex marriage bill this year while serving in the state Legislature. But because this voting bloc is already conservative, it's uncertain whether they would have supported Mr. Weprin - an Orthodox Jew - anyway, Mr. Greenberg said.
"I'm not sure he could have ever won a substantial number of their votes," he said.
Rather, general voter frustration over the slumping economy, a poor get-out-the-vote campaign and ill-advised spending of campaign money on TV ads by Mr. Weprin had at least as much to do with the election's outcome, Mr. Greenberg said.
"You had a really bad campaign for the Democrats and a very effective campaign by the Republicans," he said. "In terms of persuasion of the voters, the Turner campaign won that campaign."
Mr. Weprin narrowly carried the more Democratic Queens section of his district but was hammered in the Brooklyn precincts by more than 30 percentage points.
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Sean Lengell covers Congress and national politics and can be reached at email@example.com.
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