A Republican television executive with no political experience beat his Democratic opponent in a special election Tuesday for the open seat vacated by disgracedformer Rep. Anthony Weiner, becoming the first Republican to represent the district in an election watched around the nation.
Voter frustration over the sour economy and President Obama's policies helped Republican political novice, Bob Turner, score an upset victory over David Weprin, a Democratic assemblyman from a prominent political family.
The White House said Wednesday it does not view the defeat as a referendum on the president.
White House spokesman Jay Carney says special elections are unique and don't reveal much about the outcome of future regularly scheduled votes.
"You can make those predictions and look foolish in 14 months or not," Carney said. "I'm simply saying we do not view them that way."
Democrats have a 3-1 registration edge in the Brooklyn and Queens-area district where voters cast their ballots Tuesday.
In his victory speech, Turner said the results portend a perilous national environment for Obama as he prepares to seek re-election next year.
"This message will resound for a full year. It will resound into 2012," said Turner. "I only hope our voices are heard, and we can start putting things right again."
Weprin conceded defeat Wednesday.
The national mood has darkened since May, when Democrats scored their own unexpected win in another New York special election. Then, Democrat Kathy Hochul won an upset victory in a heavily Republican district by stressing her commitment to protecting Medicare, the government health plan for seniors.
Weprin tried to adopt that strategy, warning that Turner would try to cut programs like Medicare and Social Security. But with unemployment still stubbornly high and voters upset with Washington over the debt ceiling negotiations, the pledge to protect entitlements was less resonant this time.
Weprin, a 56-year-old Orthodox Jew and member of a prominent Queens political family, initially seemed a good fit for the largely white, working-class district, which is nearly 40 percent Jewish.
But voter frustration with Obama put Weprin in the unlikely spot of playing defense.
While Obama won the district by 11 points in 2008 against Republican John McCain, a Siena Poll released Friday found just 43 percent of likely voters approved of the president's job performance, while 54 percent said they disapproved. Among independents, just 29 percent said they approved of Obama's job performance.
Turner, a 70-year-old Catholic, vowed to push back on Obama's policies. He received help from prominent Republicans including former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Weprin also became embroiled in disputes over Israel and gay marriage, which cost him some support among Jewish voters.
Orthodox Jews, who tend to be conservative on social issues, expressed anger over Weprin's vote in the Assembly to legalize gay marriage. In July, New York became one of six states to recognize same-sex nuptials.
Former Mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat, endorsed Turner in July as a way to "send a message" to Obama on his policies toward Israel. And Weprin was challenged on his support of a proposed Islamic center and mosque near the World Trade Center site.
Democratic leaders trying to explain their bad night blamed it on the quirkiness of low-turnout special elections.
"The results in NY-09 are not reflective of what will happen in November 2012 when Democratic challengers run against Republican incumbents who voted to end Medicare and cut Social Security while protecting tax loopholes for big corporations and the ultra wealthy," said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York.
Republicans, for their part, seized on Turner's win as reason to push back on Obama's proposed $447 billion jobs program, which he has been promoting at stops across the country.
"Tonight New Yorkers have delivered a strong warning to the Democrats who control the levers of power in our federal government," House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. "It's time to scrap the failed 'stimulus' agenda."
The House seat opened up when former Weiner was pushed by party leaders to resign after sending sexually provocative tweets and text messages to women he met online.