Politics & Policy

Weiner’s Challengers

The New York GOP hopes for a pickup.

Embattled representative Anthony Weiner (D., N.Y.) may face a tough reelection battle next year.

Big Apple Republicans and conservative leaders tell National Review Online that they are itching to topple Weiner, an outspoken liberal who has represented Queens in Congress since 1998.

Weiner, who is embroiled in a Twitter scandal, “could face a serious challenge, even in the general election,” says Mike Long, the state Conservative party’s chairman.  “It is not implausible, now that he has gotten himself into this kind of problem. He may even be vulnerable in a Democratic primary.”

Phil Ragusa, the Queens County GOP chairman, agrees. “I am sure people will be lining up to run against him,” he says. “There is a chance that he is a Teflon-type politician, and this bounces off of him, but I think people are smart enough to know that he has some culpability.”

Queens businessman Bob Turner, a Republican, ran against Weiner last year. He garnered nearly 40 percent of the vote. He says he is “thinking about running again.” Another candidate floated by GOP operatives is New York State judge Noach Dear, who has previously mounted challenges to the New York Democrat.

Turner sees opportunity beyond the Twitter mess. New York’s 9th congressional district, he notes, is one of the more conservative districts in the state. John McCain carried 44 percent of the vote in 2008. George W. Bush did the same in 2004.

“It is a very conservative district,” Turner observes. “The voter registration is 3-to-1 Democrat, but the district keeps changing its voting patterns. It has gone from mostly Italian, Irish, and Jewish to a more complex makeup. The Jewish vote is divided in a number of ways between the Russians and the newer Orthodox groups. Many of the more secular, traditional Jewish Democrats are now living in Westchester and Nassau counties. A lot of things have been in flux.”

As the Twitter drama unfolds, Long says that Weiner may have trouble with Jewish voters. “There is a strong Orthodox Jewish community in the district who will not tolerate these kinds of allegations,” he says.

An April 2010 poll from McLaughlin & Associates hinted at this potential vulnerability. The survey found Weiner’s Jewish support eroding. “Jewish voters are very upset with the Obama administration’s antagonism to Israel,” explained pollster John McLaughlin at the time. Crotch shots on Twitter, Long muses, will only add fuel to that fire.

Still, Turner has some reservations about jumping back in. “I did not have support from the state party during the last race,” he says. His decision about a rematch will hinge on whether state GOP chairman Ed Cox will commit significant dollars to the race. “I am not sure of taking this on by myself again,” he says.

A New York GOP spokesman says Cox was unavailable for comment. Conservatives, however, are ready to take advantage of Weiner’s stumbles. “Our hope is that Bob Turner will do it again, or someone of his caliber,” Long says. “If he is in, it will be a very tight race. Maybe we can take him out.”

“Weiner’s situation may give us a shot,” adds Brendan Quinn, a former state GOP director who oversaw Empire State congressional races last year for the Republican National Committee.

Quinn, like Turner, says that Republicans did not pay enough attention to NY-9 in 2010. “We wanted to open an office down there, but we never had the money,” he recalls. “It was one of those districts on our second tier, a place where wished we could have done more. If the RNC had more money, if Ed Cox had more money, we may have had a chance to win.”

For now, the political scene in NY-9’s neighborhoods, from Forest Hills to Sheepshead Bay, remains fluid. Republicans are cautiously optimistic, but unsure of Weiner’s true role in the infamous tweet. No one quite knows what really happened, and, in that sense, whether NY-9 could be a surprise pickup for the party.

Indeed, Quinn predicts that Weiner may be urged to resign by fellow New York Democrats. Weiner, who is considering a 2013 mayoral run, may face heavy heat in coming days, he says, especially from his potential Democratic primary competitors. “The pressure is going to build. They will start piling on because they want to kill him as a candidate for mayor.”

Should Weiner leave office, a special election would be called. New York Republicans have not had much luck in such contests in recent years. Regardless, Republicans still see hope: The district will also likely see its borders changed, perhaps for the better, thanks to the GOP-controlled state senate.

Turner, for his part, is not so sure that Weiner will step down. “Only Republicans seem to resign in shame,” he chuckles. “These other guys don’t give a damn, they just don’t.”

Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.

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