The race to succeed disgraced Rep. Anthony Weiner appears to be headed for a photo finish Tuesday as Republicans sought to tap voter anger with President Obama to win the heavily Democratic district for the first time since 1923.
Public opinion polling shows Republican Bob Turner with a slight lead over Democrat David Weprin in the special election that was supposed to be a cake walk for Weprin with Democrats. That has prompted national Democrats to engineer a last-minute rescue effort, including pouring cash into the race and sending in their heavyweights to try to save Weprin, a state lawmaker who has tried to focus on his independence from Washington and close ties to the community.
“Washington is not perfect and that is one of the reasons I am running,” he said. “I want to make a dent. I want to try to work to bring people together.”
But Turner, a retired media executive who is a political novice, has made the president’s economic policies the cornerstone of his campaign.
“I am hoping this election will send a bolt through Washington that working people are really unhappy and will do something about it and get out and vote,” he said. “If this district, which is about as blue as they get, turns red, I believe it will, that message can’t be ignored in every corner of Washington D.C and the message is we are on the wrong track to fix it.”
A special election is also being held in Nevada, where Republican Mark Amodei and Democrat Kate Marshall are vying to represent the state’s 2nd Congressional District, which has never elected a Democrat.
The National Republican Congressional Committee say Obama and his record on jobs and the economy are an “albatross around the necks of both of these Democrat candidates in this political environment.”
But House Speaker John Boehner downplayed the party’s chances in the New York race Tuesday.
“We’ve got a great candidate in New York, but this is a very serious Democrat district once represented by Anthony Weiner, also represented by Chuck Schumer, and also represented by Geraldine Ferraro," he said. “This is not a district that Republicans have any right to believe that we can win. But, we do have a good candidate. I think it will be a close race and hope springs eternal.”
Aides to the speaker also noted that Republicans have a distinct disadvantage in the ground game in New York City, which is critical for special elections that typically have low turnout.
With a large population of Catholic and Orthodox Jewish residents, the 9th Congressional District is broadly blue collar and more conservative than many others in the city. It's the kind of white, working-class environment Obama struggled with in his 2008 campaign even as he was easily winning most other traditional Democratic constituencies.
A Siena Poll released Friday showed, in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1, Turner leading Weprin among likely voters, with a 50-44 percent margin. The same poll found just 43 percent of voters approving of Obama's job performance, while 54 percent said they disapproved.
Hoping to shift the momentum in the final days, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has invested more than $500,000 in ads in New York's pricey television market. An independent Democratic group, the House Majority PAC, is running ads, too. And Obama for America, part of the Democratic National Committee that supports the president's re-election, is urging volunteers to rally behind Weprin and help get his backers to the polls.
The party also has enlisted two of its biggest guns, former President Bill Clinton and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to record phone calls for Weprin. And Democrats are relying on organized labor and other affiliated groups to bring voters to the polls.
"We're going to fight for every vote until the polls close Tuesday," DCCC spokeswoman Jennifer Crider said. "When voters learn the real difference between David Weprin and Bob Turner, they'll vote their Democratic values."
Weprin has tried to cast Turner as hostile to popular entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. It's a formula that worked for another Democrat, Kathy Hochul, who won a heavily Republican upstate New York district in a special election last May by vowing to protect those programs.
But Weprin, an Orthodox Jew, has been on the defensive on gay marriage and Israel, which could peel away some support from the Orthodox community. He voted in favor of same-sex nuptials in the New York Assembly, and some Jewish voters have threatened to withhold support for Weprin because they disapprove of Obama's policies toward the Jewish state.
The House seat opened up in June when Weiner was pushed by party leaders to resign after sending sexually provocative tweets and text messages to women he met online.
Fox News' Eric Shawn and The Associated Press contributed to this report.