Image: Anthony Weiner
Reuters FILE
Former Congressman Anthony Weiner speaks to the media in New York on June 6, 2011 file photo.
updated 9/12/2011 1:21:24 PM ET 2011-09-12T17:21:24

Democrats are facing the very real possibility that a pair of special elections on Tuesday will shake the foundations of the 2012 political landscape. The party is at serious risk of losing a House race in New York City that few thought would be close, and campaign officials are already close to writing off a Nevada House race they had once hoped to contest.

If Republicans win both contests, it would raise fresh concerns about President Obama's drag on down-ballot Democrats and the party’s ability to keep its Senate majority. The losses would also raise questions about whether the party can gain the 24 seats it needs to regain the House.

Read full poll here (.pdf)

In the last week, the race for former Rep. Anthony Weiner's seat has given Democrats the biggest headache. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee late last week poured in $500,000 in a last-gasp attempt to hang onto a seat that has been in Democratic hands for decades. Before Weiner represented the Queens — and Brooklyn-based district, it was the home turf of now — Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

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Democrats chose New York Assemblyman David Weprin as their nominee, and, for much of the campaign, spent little time on the race. They believed it would remain firmly in Democratic hands and that Weprin would be a placeholder for a seat likely to be eliminated in redistricting anyway.

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“The Democrats will look like dummies and the DCCC will get a black eye” if Weprin loses, said New York Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. “It's a precursor to more trouble in conservative Democratic districts throughout the country, and in the Senate and for the president.”

The Republican nominee, businessman Bob Turner, also has taken advantage of several district-specific issues, according to Democratic operatives familiar with the race. He cast the contest as a referendum on Obama’s Israel policies, and scored a significant endorsement from former New York City Mayor Ed Koch.

Video: Voters hit the polls in NV, NY (on this page)

Koch’s backing has been a major factor among the district’s sizable Jewish population, nearly half of whom said in a recently released Siena poll that they were endorsing Turner. This support comes despite the fact that Weprin is an Orthodox Jew who has touted his pro-Israel bona fides on the trail.

Even Weprin has sought to distance himself from Obama, telling the Jewish Weekly that he would “probably” back him for reelection.

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Discontent with Washington and the president is at the heart of Turner’s shocking upset bid. In a district he won by 11 points just three years ago, Obama’s favorability rating is now upside down in the Siena poll, with 54 percent having an unfavorable opinion of Obama and only 43 percent viewing him favorably. A remarkable 38 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of independents hold an unfavorable view of the president.

Republicans are eager to link Obama to the district race. “It really will be a referendum on President Obama’s performance,” said New York GOP Chairman Edward Cox. “This will be a rejection of his policies that have stifled the district. Maybe [Democrats] can save this situation by funneling in hundreds of thousands of money in vicious ads — maybe that will work in this Democratic district. But they are already embarrassed by the fact that they’ve had to do this in this district.”

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In the Silver State, the situation isn’t as ominous, but Democrats have all but written off contesting a Republican-leaning seat in rural Nevada that once seemed squarely in play weeks ago. The Democratic nominee is state Treasurer Kate Marshall, and Democrats had touted her as a leading recruit. She got off to a fast fundraising start, and hammered the Republican nominee, Mark Amodei, for supporting entitlement cuts.

Republicans anticipated this contest being tight, and the National Republican Congressional Committee and the outside group American Crossroads spent significant sums of money to bolster Amodei early.

Amodei also was ready to play defense, using an ad with his mother to deflect the Medicare attacks against him. He noted that Marshall supported Obama’s health care overhaul law, which contained Medicare cuts as well. The National Republican Congressional Committee also pumped in more than $600,000 to pummel Marshall with that line of attack, but the DCCC never came to her rescue.

Early voting in the district, along with few national Democratic reinforcements for Marshall, strongly suggests that Amodei is going to win comfortably. The race’s results also have worrisome implications for Democrats in the state’s closely watched Senate race between Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley and Republican Sen. Dean Heller — close to a must-win race if Democrats entertain hopes of keeping their four-seat Senate majority.

The article, "Democrats Fear New York, Nevada Losses," first appeared in the National Journal.

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.

Video: Voters hit the polls in NV, NY

  1. Closed captioning of: Voters hit the polls in NV, NY

    >>> it may be monday but tomorrow is tuesday and that means somebody is voting somewhere. special elections in new york and in nevada a couple of house races that do still us something about the national environment . while congressional candidates are the ones on the ballot, voters may have president obama on their mind. the deputy editor of the rothenburg political and david was. erman is the house editor of the political report. gentlemen, i can't think of two better people to break this down with. first of all, i knew i'd have both of you on talking about a house race a month ago, the day before september 13th , i just assumed we'd be talking about nevada but we're talking about new york 9. bob turner , david wetbeg your pardon. a month ago this was surprisingly close. now nobody believes the democrats are going to win.

    >> we wouldn't have imagined when the anthony weiner scandal broke that democrats had to push for his resignation, but democrats couldn't have believed that a special election in new york 's 9th district in the middle of new york city and queens and brooklyn would be this competitive. it's a sign of the times . back in may when democrats saw president obama over 50% in public approval, and now it's these white ethnic working class voters giving them problems.

    >> tell me a little about bob turner . is he a classic rockefeller republican ? is he a peter king republican to put knit terms of new york republicans? who is bob turner ?

    >> i think that's what's interesting. david talked about the massachusetts reference. usually in special elections we have one terrible candidate and that's the reason why, but bob turner is no scott brown . he's not regarded as a strong candidate. he's an executive and is responsible for help getting the jerry springer show produced way back in the day.

    >> that's his badge of honor.

    >> but this race has really turned and this has become about weprin and they put him on the defensive early. you have an orthodox jew losing in a jewish community .

    >> losing to a catholic. and they have been using the mosque, the ground zero , the controversy about having a mosque and the fact of the matter is it wasn't necessarily a mosque, it was a muslim community center and it was going to be within a stone's throw of ground zero .

    >> that's not an -- as a republican that's a pretty hot button issue but special elections are all about getting out your base.

    >> what is the base? the base is what? is it a pretty -- is this coming down to israel?

    >> well, look, bob turner is getting a third of democrats in this race. so as nathan mentioned, you know, we're getting out -- democrats are trying to get out their vote, but if one out of every three voters is going for turner, then who knows what their turnout operation is like.

    >> nathan , let's move quickly to nevada 2. this is a special election , dean heller . harry reid 's political machine . the democrats had the state wide elected official. the republicans, they were okay with their nominee, but they weren't thrilled with him. this looked like it had all the makes of a dccc pulls a special election out of their hat.

    >> republicans have gone one in seven over three and a half years. they were tired of that losing streak so they went in heavy, they went in early. the nrcc started their ad at the end of july they went on the air.

    >> that is pretty early for them.

    >> and they had the advantage of having a very cheap media market . they could go into reno and define the race, define kate marshall .

    >> did the democrats walk away?

    >> because the nrcc defined marshall to a point where they put her in a hole that she couldn't get out of later.

    >> i've got to put up this stat just on the spending. david wasserman, nrcc has spent half a million dollars. american crossroads. half a million dollars. the dccc, zero.

    >> what we've seen in nevada 2 is a complete absence on the part of democrats because they recognized early on in the polling here that it just was ringing up no sale. in this kind of climate when obama is at 40%, democrats are not going to win.

    >> so they decided not to waste their money.

    >> it's a way smart on democrats ' part to try to cut their losses in this situation. the problem is their losses are bleeding into democratic districts right now.

    >> nathan , are we overrating the republican chances in new york 9? i have ohio 2 in my head. i remember all the momentum in 2005 where democrats looked like it was a very republican district and at the end of the day a lot of people still pulled the r ballot. are we going to see that tomorrow?

    >> the nervousness is the democratic get out to vote effort is going to be superior to republicans. but if the public polling is correct and turner is winning 30% of the democratic vote, i think he has the momentum and it's going to be too much to make up when tomorrow comes.

    >> is this the first time we're seeing jewish democratic voters picking a republican? the threat has been there for a long time but this is where they could be pulling that?

    >> well, in new york 9 there are different jewish democratic voters than there are elsewhere. but this is exactly the kid of districts where democrats are beginning to show signs of wear and tear.

    >> all right. nathan , david , you guys will be up late watching that one. maybe not too late, who knows. although new york 's polls close really late. thank you both.


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