— In a sharp rebuff to President Barack Obama, Republican Bob Turner won a special House election in New York Tuesday night, giving the GOP a district that Obama had carried with 55 percent in 2008 and which Democrats had held for years.
Meanwhile in another special House election on the other side of the country in Nevada, Republican Mark Amodei was headed for a landslide victory over Democrat Kate Marshall.
The Associated Press called the races for Turner and Amodei shortly after midnight Eastern time.
In the New York contest, Democratic state lawmaker David Weprin, chosen by local Democratic chieftains to hold the seat, got 47 percent of the vote Turner’s 53 percent, with about 80 percent of the precincts counted.
Republicans exulting in victory
In a fund-raising e-mail Tuesday night, National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Rep. Pete Session told supporters, "The President was not on the ballot tonight, but his failed policies were an albatross for the Democrats who were. By defeating two hand-picked Democrat candidates, you sent Obama a loud and clear message."
He added, "If Republicans can win in deep blue New York City districts, with your support, they can win anywhere."
The New York seat had been represented by Democrat Anthony Weiner who resigned last June after sending sexually provocative messages to women he contacted online.
The district, once represented by now Sen. Chuck Schumer, D- N.Y., includes parts of New York City’s boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens.
Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by three to one in the district. But Weprin’s vote for legalizing same-sex marriages antagonized many voters, while Obama’s uneasy relations with the Israeli government caused disaffection among some Jewish Democrats.
The congressional district might be drawn out of existence by state legislators in the current round of redistricting. But even so the Democrats’ defeat casts doubt on Obama’s appeal to conservative Jewish and Catholic voters.
Although Obama is still likely to carry the state of New York in the 2012 elections, diminished margins among conservative Jewish and Catholic voters could pose problems for Obama in states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, which he carried in 2008.
A message to Obama on Israel
Veteran Brooklyn state Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a conservative Democrat and an Orthodox Jew who backed Turner, said in recorded phone calls to voters, “President Obama needs to hear from us. He needs to get the message that Jewish Democrats have had it with how he’s treating Israel.”
In addition to Hikind’s support, Turner won endorsements from former New York mayors Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani and from the editorial pages of the New York Daily News and New York Post.
Weprin was endorsed by the New York Times, partly because the paper said he “would push for higher taxes for the wealthy rather than cut programs that serve the working and middle classes.”
Schumer, former President Bill Clinton and Gov. Andrew Cuomo all did recorded robo-phone calls for Weprin.
In the last week before the election, outside Democratic groups had spent nearly $700,000 boosting Weprin, while Republican and conservative groups spent $53,000 to support Turner, a 13-to-1 Democratic advantage.
Weprin’s own campaign also outraised Turner’s by better than two to one.
Asked about the effect on the race of Obama’s standing in the district, Weprin told reporters Tuesday morning, “President Obama’s not on the ballot…. We’ve been getting the message across that I’m there to save Social Security and Medicare” and he said Turner “is clearly identified with the Tea Party.”
Democrats ran TV ads saying Turner “wants to cut benefits for Medicare and Social Security, even raise the retirement age.”
In its pro-Turner editorial, the Daily News said, “Queens (Democratic) chief Rep. Joe Crowley saw in Weprin a pliant drone — and that is exactly how the voters have responded to him.”
GOP headed for big victory in Nevada race
In Nevada, Republican Amodei was leading Marshall by 20 points with more than two-thirds of the precincts counted in the race to fill the seat of fellow Republican Dean Heller who was appointed to the U.S. Senate last May to replace John Ensign who had resigned.
The district, which includes Reno and almost all of northern Nevada, has elected Republicans since it was created in 1982.
Amodei is a former state senator and former Republican party state chairman; Democrat Marshall is the state treasurer.
Analyst David Wasserman, who reports on House races for the Cook Political Report, told NBC’s Chuck Todd Monday, “What we’ve seen in Nevada 2 is a complete absence on the part of Democrats because they realized early on in the polling here that it was just ringing up ‘No Sale.’ And in this kind of climate where Obama is at 40 percent, Democrats are not going to win” in a Republican-leaning congressional district.