Republican Bob Turner leans in to kiss his wife, Peggy, during an election… (Mary Altaffer, Associated…)
Reporting from Washington — Democrats suffered a stunning blow Tuesday as voters in New York's 9th Congressional District chose a novice Republican to replace disgraced Democrat Anthony Weiner in an election that became a referendum on President Obama.
With more than 90% of precincts reporting, Bob Turner, a retired television executive best known for producing "The Jerry Springer Show," had 53% of the vote in unofficial returns, election officials said. Democrat Dave Weprin, a state assemblyman from a politically connected family, had 46%.
Weprin did not immediately concede.
Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1 in the district, which has not been represented by the GOP since 1923.
Turner hailed the results.
"Republicans, Democrats, and independents in the heart of New York City sent an unmistakable message to President Obama tonight: change course," he told The Times in an email. "The debt and spending is killing job growth in America, and we must stand firmly behind ally Israel again. What is happening today is unacceptable."
Weprin, 55, had led Turner by six percentage points in a Siena College poll last month, but trailed by the same amount in a Siena poll last week. That stunned Democrats into an advertising and grass-roots mobilization effort that came too late.
The House seat has been vacant since June, when Weiner resigned after acknowledging he had sent lewd photos to women over the Internet.
Republicans also won a special election in Nevada on Tuesday. Mark Amodei defeated Democrat Kate Marshall to represent a sprawling congressional district that includes Reno, Carson City and rural areas. A Democrat has never won the seat, which became vacant when Republican Dean Heller replaced Sen. John Ensign, a fellow Republican who resigned amid a sex-and-lobbying scandal.
The New York race was the most recent and consequential reminder of how Democrats' political fortunes have plummeted since spring. In May, Democrat Kathy Hochul — buoyed by voter discontent with Republicans' attempts to transform Medicare into a voucher system, as well as by Obama's job-approval boost after U.S. troops killed Osama bin Laden — seized a staunchly Republican district in a special election in upstate New York.
Since then, however, Obama's approval ratings have waned amid the sputtering economy and a summer-long tussle over the national debt. Turner, 70, who entered the race as a long shot, managed to turn the election into a referendum on Obama.
"I think there are many people in this district that are unhappy with [Obama's] positions," Turner said in an interview before the election results were known. "Economics and jobs are the overriding issue[s] here."
The district, which includes parts of Brooklyn and Queens, "has always been seen as sort of the epicenter of the Jewish vote in New York City," said Christopher Malone, professor of political science at Pace University. "So Israel is always in the background."
In an attempt to appeal to the district's large constituency of Orthodox Jews, Turner highlighted Obama's position that Israel's borders before the 1967 Mideast war should be the baseline for peace talks. Obama has stressed that the baseline should be subject to land swaps, but critics often ignore that qualifier. Turner's campaign was bolstered when former New York Mayor Ed Koch crossed party lines to endorse him, citing a desire to send a message to Obama about his position on the issue.
Turner also tried to link Weprin to a controversial plan to build an Islamic community center near the former World Trade Center site.
Weprin, an Orthodox Jew, represents the same Assembly district that was held by his father and brother for a total of 38 years. As for the mosque, he said, "They have an absolute right to build on that site. But if they could work out an accommodation with the 9/11 families and find an alternative site, that would be preferable."
Times staff writer Ashley Powers in Las Vegas contributed to this report.