When Republican Bob Turner, a retired television executive best known for producing “The Jerry Springer Show,” campaigned to replace Rep. Anthony Weiner in New York’s 9th Congressional District last year, he struggled to get the attention of even the local newspapers in his district.
Now, with New Yorkers heading to the polls Tuesday to choose a replacement for the disgraced Weiner -- who resigned amid an embarrassing sexting scandal earlier this year -- Turner is basking in the national spotlight that has been turned on this special election race.
“This is kind of extraordinary,” Turner said in an interview Tuesday. “There’s an appeal for me as a practical businessman who hasn’t really been sullied by a career in politics.”
Democrat David Weprin, a state assemblyman from a politically connected family, has seen his lead in the polls collapse over the past month as Turner surged ahead with the help of endorsements from some Democrats, including former New York Mayor Ed Koch.
Republicans were trounced last May in a special election in upstate New York, losing a reliably Republican seat to Democrat Kathy Hochul in a campaign that became viewed as a referendum on Republican efforts to convert Medicare into a voucher system.
Today, in a district that includes portions of Brooklyn and Queens, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1, the referendum is on Obama and the sputtering economy.
“That district is not unlike the rest of the country,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “People are very unhappy with the economy right now, and, frankly, I would say unhappy with the lack of leadership on the part of this White House.”
Weiner resigned the seat last June after he admitted to sending lewd photos to women over Twitter. Weiner initially denied sending the photos, setting off a dramatic and increasingly embarrassing media spectacle that ended in a tearful resignation announcement.
Asked on Tuesday if he worried that his actions might have cost his party a reliable seat, Weiner said, “If you made a list of 10 fervent defenders of Democratic ideals, I would be on it,” Reuters reports.
The Democrats’ vast get-out-the-vote apparatus in a district that reelected Weiner half a dozen times may not be enough to overcome the economic anxiety that Turner has tapped into.
“I think there are many people in this district that are unhappy with [Obama’s] positions,” Turner said. “Economics and jobs are the overriding issue here.”
Republicans view the race as an opportunity to cement that. But as Turner surged ahead, they also sought to keep expectations low.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) described the district as “not a district that we have any right to believe we can win.”
Turner called the district “such a blue area that if this flips to the Republican column, it will have a great impact on the Democratic leadership.”
“The polls may measure the mood and momentum, but what really counts is what’s happening now today in this get out the vote effort,” Turner said. “It’s us vs. a very good machine . . . We’re going to have a wonderful party or a wonderful wake.”
Results of the special election are expected around 10 p.m. Eastern.