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Democrat blames NY loss on sagging Obama popularity

Sep 15, 2011, 3:19 p.m.

By Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York Democrat candidate blamed President Barack Obama on Thursday for his loss in a special election for a House of Representatives district that had been held by the Democrats for more than 80 years.

The Republican upset on Tuesday in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans three to one has rattled some Democrats ahead of the November 2012 presidential election.

David Weprin, a New York state assemblyman, said his loss in a race to replace disgraced Anthony Weiner, who resigned in a Twitter sex scandal, was an "unfortunate consequence" of a campaign that turned into a "referendum" on Obama's policies.

Republican Bob Turner, a retired media executive, won by six percentage points after urging discontented voters to send Obama a message. It is the first time the Republicans have won the heavily Jewish district since the 1920s.

"The message of the campaign was, 'Send Obama a message,'" said Weprin, who is from a well-connected political family. "I think the problem was that he's the president and people are frustrated and it's just natural to take it out on the top guy ... or the top guy's party."

"As much as I tried to make it about David Weprin or Bob Turner, I don't think that resonated to voters. I think that voters looked at it as a referendum on the president," he said, adding that he did not believe Weiner's scandalous resignation

played a role in the Democrat loss of the district.

ECONOMY TO BLAME

The special election also underscored Obama's potential weakness with Jewish voters, who will play a crucial role in important swing states such as Florida in 2012. Conservative Jewish voters traditionally back Democrats.

Prominent Democrats such as former New York City Mayor Ed Koch crossed party lines to protest Obama's stance on Israel.

Some critics say Obama has failed to sufficiently support Israel and object to his call for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to use the Jewish state's pre-1967 borders as a starting point.

Turner's triumph, and a Republican victory in another special House election -- in Nevada -- boosted the Republican majority over Democrats in the House to 242-192.

Democrats have sought to downplay the loss, saying the district has been trending Republican in recent years and contending it would have no bearing the 2012 election, when Obama will seek a second term in office.

"I don't believe that it tells us much about what's going to happen in 2012," former U.S. President Bill Clinton said on Thursday of the Democrats loss in the New York special election. "What it tells us is that the American people want to see some improvements in the economy."

In an interview to promote next week's Clinton Global Initiative in New York, Clinton said he also believed the voters had also been concerned about U.S. ties with Israel.

"They understand that sometimes our positions will be different, but they just want to make sure that when we differ with the Israeli government on policy that no one ever believes that we won't be there for Israel's security," he said.

(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols, editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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