Republicans won a U.S. House seat in New York Tuesday that no Republican has captured since the 1920s. The GOP also won another previously competitive seat in Nevada by 20 percentage points, sending anxiety throughout Democratic ranks.
Republican Bob Turner, a retired media executive who has never held public office, bested Democratic state assemblyman David Weprin to win New York's 9th Congressional District, a heavily Orthodox Jewish area encompassing much of Queens and part of Brooklyn. Democrat Anthony Weiner resigned from the seat in June after a drawn-out scandal.
Turner's campaign focused on tying Weprin to President Obama, whose national approval ratings have been losing altitude. The Orthodox Jewish community in the district also generally opposes Obama's position that Israel should return to 1967 borders as a starting point for peace talks with the Palestinians. Turner cast his victory as a clear repudiation of the president.
Even Democrats hinted that Obama might have dragged Weprin down to defeat.
"I think every election reflects on the person in charge, but do I think it is an overall statement on the president alone? No," said House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer on Tuesday morning. "Do I think it will be interpreted as being a statement on Obama? That's probably correct."
Elections guru Stuart Rothenberg described Obama as an "albatross" for Weprin. The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, dismissed such claims, saying the 9th is "a very difficult district for Democrats."
Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-1 in the 9th District. Voter turnout was higher than expected-which was supposed to help the Democratic candidate, but Weprin still lost by a stunning eight percentage points.
Turner might not hold the seat long, thanks to planned redistricting. New York must eliminate two congressional districts, and the 9th District was a target to be carved up between surrounding districts. Now that a Republican holds the seat, it is even more likely to be eliminated.
Republicans have lost strongholds of their own in recent special elections in New York.
Following Republican Rep. Chris Lee's resignation after sending shirtless photos of himself to a woman he met online, Democrat Kathy Hochul won his conservative district in May, a victory Democrats cast as a rebuke of the Republicans' proposal to change Medicare to a voucher program.
Perhaps more worrisome for President Obama are the numbers from the special election for the 2nd Congressional District in Nevada, a state that is strategically important for his reelection. Sen. John McCain won Nevada's 2nd District by a mere 88 votes in the 2008 presidential election, while Obama took the state. On Tuesday, Republican Mark Amodei won the district by more than 20 percentage points. Nevada has been hit particularly hard by the recession, with high unemployment and foreclosure rates.
Listen to a report on the New York congressional election on The World and Everything in It.