Weiner's District Causing Headaches For Democrats

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It's been more than two months since former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner resigned in disgrace after sending lewd messages and then lying about it. But now the race to fill his seat in Queens and Brooklyn is causing more headaches for Democrats.

With just days to go before a special election, a Siena College poll taken this week showed the Republican candidate with a 6-point advantage in a heavily Democratic district.

If Democrats were thinking their nominee, David Weprin, would coast to an easy victory in a district where they hold a 3-to-1 registration advantage, they aren't now. This week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reportedly poured nearly half a million dollars into a TV ad attacking Weprin's opponent, Republican Bob Turner.

The first version of the ad was pulled from YouTube because it included an image of a corporate jet flying over the New York skyline, which struck some as offensive because of the impending anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Queens native Douglas Muzzio, who teaches public affairs at Baruch College, said Weprin has hurt himself with some other prominent gaffes. For example, telling the New York Daily News editorial board that the national debt is $4 trillion, instead of $14 trillion.

"Weprin's got a money advantage. He's got an organizational advantage," Muzzio said. "He should win easily. But given the times, and his less than stellar performance in the race so far, it's tight."

The two candidates debated Thursday on local TV, sparring over who is a bigger supporter of the state of Israel and who has a better plan to cut the federal deficit.

Weprin said the way to cut the federal deficit is to close corporate loopholes and eliminate tax benefits for multinational corporations that export jobs overseas.

A state assemblyman who was handpicked by New York's Democratic leaders to fill Weiner's seat, Weprin has had his hands full with Turner, his Republican opponent. Turner is a fiscal conservative and a former cable TV executive who helped create the tabloid talk program The Jerry Springer Show. He ran in the district last year and lost to Weiner by more than 20 points. But he's had a lot more success this year framing the race as a referendum on President Obama.

"This is a chance for the voters to stand up and say, 'Mr. Obama, we're not going to take it,' " Turner said. "And this is one way they will clearly understand."

Even Weprin tried to distance himself from some of the president's less popular policies. At the debate in Queens, he hesitated for a moment before saying that he would support Obama's re-election, eliciting a mix of cheers and boos from the crowd.

Margaret Wagner of Broad Channel, Queens, was one of the audience members who booed. Wagner says she voted for Weiner in the past but plans to vote Republican this year.

"I'm a little concerned with where the country is going," Wagner said. "You know, I am responsible for my own budget, and I'd love to see the country be responsible. And they're not."

Turnout for Tuesday's special election is expected to be low. That would seem to favor Democrats, who traditionally have a better get-out-the-vote effort in Queens and Brooklyn. And Weprin is turning to popular New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for help on the campaign trail in the closing days.

No matter which party wins on Tuesday, it may not the hold the seat for long. New York state is set to lose two congressional seats next year — and most observers think this will be one of them.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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