New York 9: Special Madness

Nathan L. Gonzales September 9, 2011 · 2:58 PM EDT

Republicans are within striking distance of taking over a seat in New York City, or at least that’s the way Democrats are acting. With just days to go before voters go to the polls in New York’s 9th District, Democrats are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in television ads in a last-minute effort to salvage Cong. Anthony Weiner’s (D) seat in a special election.

The fact that the seat is this close this late is remarkable.

The 9th District is more conservative than most other New York City districts, but Barack Obama still won it with 55% in 2008. John Kerry carried it with 56% in 2004 and Al Gore took 67% there in 2000. GOP nominee Bob Turner is not regarded as a strong candidate, and thus far, there has been no activity by GOP outside groups.

But a Siena College poll at the beginning of August showed Assemblyman David Weprin (D) with a tenuous six-point lead over Turner. Subsequently, two Republican polls showed the two men either tied or Turner with a narrow advantage. The DCCC countered with its own poll showing Weprin with a wider 8-point lead, and party operatives dismissed the Republican poll numbers.

They aren’t any longer, and it’s clear that Democrats are seeing different numbers now. The final Siena poll, released Friday, showed Turner with a 50%-44% advantage.

The DCCC is spending close to $500,000 on expensive New York City broadcast and cable ads on Friday, Saturday, and Monday. The House Majority PAC, a Democratic Super PAC, is also in for at least $100,000. That’s not counting Weprin’s own ads that amount to about a quarter of a million dollars.

The NRCC has apparently inquired about TV rates, but hasn’t pulled the trigger on any big ad buy. They’ve given coordinated money to Turner and helped in other smaller ways, but even with some positive polling, most GOP strategists have seemed very skeptical that this is a winnable race. That suggests a last-minute Republican TV blitz is quite unlikely.

But a combination of national factors and local dynamics has likely contributed to the current situation. Weprin, who is an orthodox Jew, is struggling with the Jewish community because of his vote for same-sex marriage, and he is taking heat for Obama’s stance on Israel. If Weprin loses, he will be the fourth state legislator to lose a special election in the Empire State.

As with any special election, turnout is hard to predict, but this race is particularly unique. Weprin won’t be campaigning from Friday evening to Saturday evening because of the Jewish Sabbath. And no one will be campaigning on Sunday because of the 10th Anniversary of September 11.

With a 3-to-1 voter registration edge, the votes are there for Democrats, and they believe that they have a tremendous get-out-the-vote operation in place to pull out a victory. But according to the Siena survey, Weprin is hemorrhaging Democratic voters, so party GOTV efforts might not have as big of an impact as Democratic strategists hope.

Democrats view their spending as an invest-ment. Since New York loses two districts and neither party controls the redistricting process completely, it’s likely that each party will lose a seat under the new lines.

If Weprin wins, he’ll likely be the one to get the Democrats’ short straw in redistricting. But if he loses, Democrats presumably would have to find another Democrat to sacrifice in 2012.

A Turner victory would constitute evidence that their candidates can’t rely on Medicare as their silver bullet in 2012. Democratic attacks on the so-called Ryan Budget and on the GOP’s alleged plan to eliminate Medicare have not worked in the special election in Nevada’s 2nd District.

While the district’s fundamentals strongly favor Democrats, Weprin has proven to be an underwhelming nominee, and voters in the district seem unhappy about the economy and the President’s stance on Israel. That has given Turner, also not an ideal candidate, an opportunity.

Two and a half months ago, anyone who promised a close special election in this district would have been deemed delusional, but now Democrats are simply hoping to dodge a bullet. As crazy as it may sound, this contest is too close to call.