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It’s a wild political climate out there. In keeping with the blistering heat afflicting previously ultra-safe incumbents, a happily retired Queens businessman by the name of Bob Turner thinks he can unseat his Democratic congressman, six-term representative Anthony Weiner. It’s a long shot, but crazier things have happened. Just ask Sen. Scott Brown.
Running for office was the farthest thing from Turner’s mind when he was watching Weiner on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News show one March night. But, as Democrats were forcing their unpopular health-care revolution through, Weiner didn’t even have the decency to answer his interviewer’s questions. Weiner’s “dodging” made Turner “hostile.” So he went to his neighbor, Michael Long, who happens to be chairman of the Conservative party in New York, and asked, “To whom do I send a check?” No one, was the answer. There was no one challenging Weiner. So Turner pressed on, asking what could be done about that. Long sketched out prerequisites — “someone who isn’t working,” “someone who has enough coin to start the ball rolling.” Turner asked his wife of 46 years, Peggy, what she’d think of his running for Congress. A talk-radio junkie, the special-needs nurse immediately became his biggest cheerleader: She was in a state of outrage about the undemocratic transformation going on before her eyes. And so “Bob Turner for Congress” was born.
Turner, who spent 40 years in media and business, is determined: writing his own policy statements, doing his own media, demonstrating hard work on the campaign trail. The “business background helps,” he says, in his effort to get voters to know someone is running against Weiner at all, and that this someone has a name and a mission. His campaign “is not a gesture,” he insists. He’s in it to serve as congressman. “Plan A is to win. Plan B is to team up with likeminded people once I get to Washington.” Deeply worried about the unsustainability of federal spending, as well as the national-security and moral threats to our future, he wants Washington to make sense.
Turner is convinced that this zeal — stirred in him by Weiner — is shared in the Ninth District of New York (and around the country). Brooklyn and Queens may not seem like prime tea-party territory, but they’re living in the same country, feeling the same economic and other frustrations the most pro-Palin tea partier is feeling. The watchword of Turner’s campaign: “grassroots.” He’s got outdoor advertising and mailings planned, but he insists that the core of the campaign is going to be getting a “buzz” started at kitchen tables around the district with phone calls, knocking on doors, and new media.
He realizes that this is a David-and-Goliath battle, though. He jokes that once Weiner realizes people are on to him, the congressman will have Barbra Streisand serenading his constituents as his Hail Mary pass.
Turner says he’s hearing his own frustration with Weiner echoed by volunteers in the campaign’s humble Glendale, Queens, headquarters. He’s hearing it from lifelong Democrats. And he’s hearing it from Jewish voters: Have you seen the Obama administration’s Israel policy lately?
Of course, in 2008, Barack Obama took nearly 80 percent of the Jewish vote. But an April poll from New York–based McLaughlin and Associates found the president’s Jewish support eroding. Turner’s run, pollster John McLaughlin says, is “interesting timing, as Jewish voters are very upset with the Obama administration’s antagonism to Israel.”
While Weiner is seen as staunchly pro-Israel — he even defended her after the recent flotilla incident — Turner accuses Weiner of “talking out of both sides of his mouth.” He notes the flotilla incident as a conspicuous example of Weiner’s lack of leadership: “He condemned Turkey, not our policies toward Turkey. Turkey is a pretty easy target.” While attacking Turkey “may seem the pro-Israeli position,” Turner says, Weiner “leaves the administration alone, in an attempt to keep the political heat off himself.” In other words, with friends like these . . .
In this climate, an end result of “Rep. Bob Turner” is, Mike Long insists, “not impossible.” “If you called me a year ago I would have told you no way Chris Christie could win,” he humbly recalls. Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, is now being celebrated, even talked up for higher office.
Bob Turner, mind you, has no such aspirations, or any delusions. He looks ahead and says that as a potential congressman, “I will have a job to do. I want to do it and get the hell out.”
Long tells me that when Turner told him he’d be the guy the voter who is frustrated with Weiner could send a check to, “my jaw a little bit dropped.” He’s “the last guy I would have suspected was going to run for Congress.” But he’s got “passion about what’s going wrong in the country. He’s not doing it for himself. He clearly is a citizen candidate. He’s making contact with people. It is possible.”
The “citizen candidate” and “making contact” aspects of his campaign — on top of being someone with business experience who is riled up about what Washington is doing, and the “dependency mindset” it’s increasingly codifying — may prove to be its top selling points. The 2010 edition of The Almanac of American Politics describes Weiner’s “lust for the media limelight,” likening his eagerness “to appear on cable talk shows” to that of his “mentor,” Democratic senator Charles Schumer. That Weiner is more interested in responding to his former boss, Schumer, than to his constituents is one of the commonplace complaints Turner says he’s hearing from Ninth District voters.
Bob Turner, Long says, is “standing up to one of the giants.” He confidently predicts: “I think the giant is going to be taken down to size.”
– Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.