Republican Victory in NY Special Election is Another Sign Dems are Off-Message
Republican Bob Turner won the special election for Anthony Weiner’s former congressional seat in New York Tuesday night, signaling further trouble for President Obama’s reelection campaign. Both the media and Republicans were quick to cast Turner’s solid eight point victory over Democrat Assemblyman David Weprin as a referendum on Obama’s economic policies, but they also pointed to Jewish voters wary of Obama’s Israel policies as further evidence of a crumbling Obama coalition. Hyperbole about Obama’s doomed political fortunes aside, the Democrats are doing an impeccable job reminding their base that they know how to blow an electoral opportunity.
Weprin’s loss in a district won by Democrats since 1923 certainly confounded party leaders and rattled their confidence in their base, but Weprin, an Orthodox Jew himself, fumbled in securing the Jewish vote. In the great Democratic tradition of sabotaging one’s fellow Democrat, former Mayor Ed Koch endorsed Turner in July. According to the Associated Press, Koch deliberately sought to “send a message” to the White House on its policies toward Israel. Making matters worse, Orthodox Jews vocal in their opposition to Weprin’s vote for same-sex marriage further increased Weprin’s unexpected vulnerability among Jewish voters. And, in case Democrats needed another indication they had a candidate making a bid for irrelevancy, the Democratic Party’s persona non grata Joe Lieberman actually came out in support for Weprin. No doubt Democrats again asked themselves how Joe could be so selfish.
For all the spin that can be done over a special election, one cannot ignore the Democrats’ complicity in their own defeat. Part of Weprin’s weakness as a candidate reflects the modern Democratic Party’s longstanding confusion over basic branding skills. A July profile of Weprin by Azi Paybarah noted that Weprin is wonky, “prone to long explanations about complicated financial matters,” and relies upon traditional party connections rather than cultivating a strong and memorable public message. All of this contrasts sharply with the Tea Party’s obsession with plain language and retail politics. Despite Democrats outspending the Turner campaign, Turner’s constant focus on the bleak economy capitalized upon voters’ discontent with Obama’s perceived ineffectiveness. Weprin lacked a compelling message and instead stuck to Democratic talking points about Republican attempts to cut from and possibly dismantle/fervently eradicate Medicare and Social Security.
Now, there has been some hemming and hawing about how Democratic the NY-9 district really is. CBS reports that Obama claimed 55 percent of the vote in the district in 2008, a solid but not overwhelming victory where Democratic voters outrank Republicans 3-to-1. One could agree with the Democrats that Turner mobilized conservatives in what was otherwise a low voter turnout. But whatever the combination of factors that led to Turner’s victory—the economy, insecurity over Israel, Kochian agitation, New Yorkers suspending their natural skepticism of red meat, Tea Party politics—the Democrats seemed blind to the weakness of their candidate, just as they were when Scott Brown beat Martha Coakley for Ted Kennedy’s former seat in January 201o.
On Wednesday, Democratic leaders naturally sought to push back against any notion that Turner’s victory is predictive of Republican strength in 2012, blaming low voter turnout despite Democrats heavily outspending Turner. And as expected, the usual disgruntled statements about Republican obstructionism in Congress were issued. But as Democrats must now turn to getting at least some parts of the American Jobs Act passed, they should consider why they fielded a candidate who lacked the message and emotional appeal they need in order to succeed across the board in 2012.
Photo from conservativebyte.com
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