Bob Turner, once considered a long shot to replace disgraced former Rep. Anthony D. Weiner, is rolling toward Tuesday’s special election with a rush of momentum rarely seen by a Republican in the New York City district.
Although Mr. Turner is expected to benefit from low voter turnout and President Obama’s low job-approval ratings, Democrats are banking on an influx of cash, a flood of TV ads, an army of campaign volunteers and a reliable party base to push their candidate, David Weprin, to victory.
“This is one of those places where the Democratic machine knows how to get out the vote, and Republicans just don’t have that in place,” said a senior House Democratic aide.
Republicans agree that winning the district, which includes parts of Brooklyn and Queens and where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by more than a 3-to-1 margin, won’t be easy. But with an independent Siena College poll taken last week showing Mr. Turner with a 6-percentage-point lead — a result almost unimaginable earlier in the summer — the party is in good shape to capture the seat for the first time since 1921.
“We’re hopeful we’ll have a strong operation heading into Election Day, but it’s going to be tough, though, because Democrats have the political machine in Queens and New York City, and so that’s something that we’ll have to overcome,” said a senior House Republican aide.
“But I think that the position that we’re in right now is about the best that anyone could’ve hoped for one, two or three months ago.”
Mr. Obama won New York’s 9th Congressional District by 11 percentage points in 2008, but dissatisfaction with the president among the district’s mix of socially conservative Catholics and Jewish voters will pose a significant challenge for Mr. Weprin.
Despite the district’s atypical demographics and unique issues, many will view the results of the contest as a bellwether for Mr. Obama’s 2012 re-election effort.
“While a plurality of voters [in the district] says New York state is on the right track, nearly three-quarters of voters say the country is headed in the wrong direction,” said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg.
“The voters’ mood on the direction of the country, coupled with the unfavorable rating of President Obama — particularly among Republicans and independents — makes this a tougher election for Weprin, or for any Democrat running in this district or a district like it.”
Mr. Turner, 70, a longtime business executive, lost to Mr. Weiner by 20 percentage points last year. But Mr. Weiner’s resignation in June, after acknowledging sexually charged online relationships with several women, set up the special election to fill out the remainder of his term, which expires in early January 2013.
Mr. Weprin, 55, is a New York state assemblyman and a former New York City Council member.
The Democrats’ key to victory rests with its get-out-the-vote effort. The Weprin campaign has spent about $750,000 in TV advertising, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the fundraising arm of House Democrats — contributed about two-thirds of the amount, the Democratic aide said.
The Turner campaign has spent $30,000 to $35,000 on TV ads, the aide said.
“I think heading into the weekend, the key point is the difference in the turnout operations,” the aide said Friday. “And the fact is the Weprin campaign has a far superior ground game going.”
The Democrat also had raised almost $451,000 and had more than $202,000 in available cash as of Aug. 24, the latest available campaign-finance records showed. Mr. Turner had raised about $204,000 and had almost $94,000 in cash during the same period.
But Mr. Weprin has had some publicized missteps. The influential New York Daily News immediately seized on a mistake Mr. Weprin made in a meeting last month with the editorial board, which asked about the size of the national debt. Mr. Weprin’s answer of $4 trillion was more than $10 trillion short.
Mr. Weprin then dropped out of a debate with Mr. Turner at the last minute, citing logistical problems owing to Hurricane Irene. However, many thought the true motive for his no-show was embarrassment over the Daily News gaffe.
Mr. Weprin also has upset many Orthodox Jews in the district for his support of a same-sex marriage bill while serving in the state Legislature.
Republicans, smelling blood, are in full attack mode. District voters in recent days have received 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.” It is an attempt to revive a hotly contested debate over whether a mosque should be built near ground zero.
The back of the card, which news reports said was funded by the New York state GOP, features photos of Mr. Weprin and Mr. Obama superimposed over an image of a mosque.
“This race is going down to the wire,” Mr. Greenberg said. “While Turner leads and has momentum on his side, this is still a heavily Democratic district. … There’s still a lot of campaigning yet to happen.”
Democrats’ efforts may not be enough to push back a rising tide of support for the Republican and growing dissatisfaction with the Obama administration.
“What you’ve got here is not just a competitive race, but a trend showing that David Weprin is really in bad situation because Bob Turner is surging, and surging at just the right time,” said the GOP aide.