The last time New York’s Ninth Congressional District sent a Republican to Congress, Warren G. Harding was president and wide swaths of Queens were still cornfields. Thanks to Anthony Weiner’s digital indiscretions, Bob Turner has a chance to break that streak.
A new poll indicates that the race is at the moment dead even between Turner and Democrat David Weprin. Turner mounted a credible campaign against Weiner in 2010, winning 41 percent of the vote. His race this time around should give an indication of how far frustration with the economy and President Obama can take Republicans, albeit in one of the most Democratic corners of the country.
Turner has emphasized two issues throughout his campaign: the debt and Israel. While his opponent failed to give the New York Daily News
a reasonably close approximation of the amount of the federal debt when asked, Turner has repeatedly pointed out that if entitlements and runaway spending are not addressed, “we will saddle the next generation with a debt-service problem that is insurmountable.” His ideas on spending, taxes, and entitlements are realistic, both fiscally and politically, acknowledging the extent of the pending crisis but stopping well short of the more extensive changes contemplated by Paul Ryan and other hardcore deficit warriors.
Both Weprin and Turner are hawkish supporters of Israel, a perfectly orthodox stance in the Ninth. But Turner, seeking an edge on the issue, argued during an interview with National Review Online that his opponent’s opposition to Obama’s antagonistic Israel policies “would be undercut by party loyalty.” Robert Hornak, a spokesman for the Queens Republican party, notes that the election is “a referendum on Obama’s leadership, and in this district, especially as it pertains to Israel.” Unfortunately for Turner, the district’s Jewish community is so unwilling to vote Republican that the best he can hope for is that Weprin’s weakness on Israel might depress turnout.
Turner has emphasized his career as a businessman and his lifelong residency in Queens, characterizing Weprin as a political opportunist and pointing out that he does not even reside in the district. Whether those local ties will be enough to overcome party affiliation is the crucial question for Turner.
“Ironically, the fact that the Republicans have been putting nothing into this race has been good for Turner,” says Fred Siegel, an expert on New York City politics and scholar at the Manhattan Institute.
Weprin, on the other hand, will be playing party loyalty to the hilt. He has repeatedly tried to link Turner with the Tea Party movement, with which he is not affiliated, and with Paul Ryan’s entitlement-reform agenda, which he does not support. Weprin has specifically charged that Turner plans to cut or privatize Social Security and Medicare, a serious charge in a district with a huge share of older voters. Turner has consistently emphasized that he will not vote to change benefits for citizens now over the age of 55 and does not support Paul Ryan’s plan, which, he says, “privatizes Medicare.” Turner has gone so far as to decline proffered support from tea-party organizations.