New York City has by hit by two earthquakes in the last month. The first was of the meteorological sort and registered nearly 6.0 on the Richter scale. The second rumblings Sept. 13 were of the political kind, and came when Republican Bob Turner won a historically Democratic House district anchored in Queens that was formerly represented by Geraldine Ferraro, current Sen. Charles Schumer, and the recently resigned, ethically-tinged Anthony Weiner.
What gave the special election result in the New York 9th District national import was that it occurred in the midst of one of the nation’s most Democratic cities. To paraphrase the famous song, “New York, New York”: “If the Democrats can’t win there, they probably can’t win anywhere” … at least in this political cimate.
Turner – a retired cable TV executive and political novice - won with a campaign that sharply criticized President Obama for his handling of the economy and his frayed ties with Israel. This, in spite of the fact that his Democratic opponent, state Assemblyman David Weprin, is an Orthodox Jew in a district with a large number of voters of similar faith. Still, nearly complete but unofficial returns showed Turner the victor with 54% of the vote. In the process, he becomes the first Republican House member since 1990 elected from a district within the city other than the one based on Staten Island.
To be sure, the turnout for the special election in the New York 9th was only 60,000. That represented barely half the number that voted in the 2010 midterm election in the district, which Weiner won easily. And there is no doubt that the district is far more competitive politically than much of the rest of the city. While Obama swept New York City in 2008 by nearly 60 percentage points, his margin in the 9th was barely 10 points.
Yet there is no mistaking that the GOP’s upset victory was an ominous sign for the president and his party’s congressional allies as they prepare for 2012. For if the Democrats cannot win big next year in urban America, their chances are minimal of either retaining the White House or winning back the House of Representatives.