New York seat loss rattles Democrats
Election defeat blamed on high unemployment and Obama's perceived weakness with pro-Israel Jewish voters.
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2011 07:13

A Republican upset in a historically Democratic congressional district of New York City has shaken Democrats and President Barack Obama as they head to the November 2012 elections.

A day after Bob Turner, a Republican, scored an eight-point victory over his Democrat rival, David Weprin, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wrote an open memo on Wednesday.

The message: "We are not going to sugarcoat it, this was a tough loss."

Turner, a retired media executive, won 54 per cent of the vote to Weprin's 46 per cent, handing the seat to Republicans for the first time since the 1920s in a heavily Jewish district where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1.

Weprin, a state assemblymen, conceded on Wednesday in a loss Republicans called evidence of voter discontent with the Democratic president.

"The people are not happy with the Democratic Party in our district or in Washington. That includes the president," Tyler Zuckerman, 60, a retiree, said.

"It's about jobs or lack thereof. It's about the president not sticking to his fan base, so they won't stick with him."

Democrats in the district straddling parts of Brooklyn and Queens were embarrassed by the former congressmen there, Anthony Weiner, who resigned amid scandal in June for sending lewd pictures of himself to women on the internet.

Media glare

Tuesday's special election took place in the media glare of New York City and underscored Obama's potential weakness with pro-Israel Jewish voters, who will play a crucial role in important swing states such as Florida in 2012.

Prominent Democrats including Ed Koch, a former mayor, and Dov Hikind, and Orthodox Jewish state assembly member, crossed party lines to protest against Obama's stance on Israel.

"New Yorkers put Washington Democrats on notice that voters are losing confidence in a president whose policies assault job-creators and affront Israel," Pete Session, chairman of the House Republicans' campaign committee, said.

Some critics say Obama has failed to sufficiently support Israel and object to his call for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to use Israel's pre-1967 borders as a starting point.

"I know fully well that this is about Obama. It is bigger than the district," Jerome Richards, 55, a corrections officer, said.

"People are turning on him, like Mayor Koch, so it's going to be hard next year."

Economic issues

US unemployment of 9.1 per cent also is weighing on Obama, whose approval rating remains below 50 per cent.

"The economy is the main thing keeping Obama down. No one really cares about what he promised in 2008 or if he came through when they don't have a job," said Eli Port, 57, who voted for Weprin.

Turner's triumph, and a Republican victory in another special House election - in Nevada - boosted the Republican majority over Democrats in the House to 242-192.

Democrats sought to downplay the loss, saying the district has been trending Republican in recent years and contending it would have no bearing on 2012, when Obama will seek a second term against a Republican to be determined in a series of primary elections that begin in January.

Jobs plan

Obama could also take solace in a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday showing his approval rating got a small lift after he unveiled a jobs plan last week, keeping him ahead of all potential Republican rivals in the 2012 election.

The percentage of Americans who view Obama's job performance favourably edged up to 47 per cent in the poll conducted September 8-12, up from 45 per cent in August.

One expert cautioned against reading too much into the special election results.

"Sure, this election sent a message to Democrats that they are in trouble, but they already knew that," said Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia who tracks congressional races.

"What does this election say about 2012? Absolutely nothing. Fourteen months is a long times in politics. A lot can happen."

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