On the upside—Turner did get 39 percent. It was the closest challenge Weiner ever saw. Even though we hadn’t won, Turner made strong inroads in Brooklyn among the Orthodox Jewish community and built a strong grassroots organization with over 400 working volunteers throughout the district.
What we didn’t know then was that within a matter of months, Turner would be able to put those building blocks to work for another shot at a congressional seat.
A Second Chance
By June, a scandal-plagued Anthony Weiner was forced to resign and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) had called a special election. The conventional wisdom was that despite the scandal, Democrats would have no problem holding onto the district.
We didn’t mind being underestimated.
The major party nominations would be decided by the respective party leaders. There were several aspiring GOP candidates, but we had an ally in Long, who thought Turner was best suited to run. The Conservative Party pulled the trigger first and nominated Turner. The Brooklyn and Queens County Republican chairs followed suit.
Despite the earlier loss, Turner had some positives to take away from the 2010 cycle—a strong grassroots organization, a base fundraising operation, good relationships with community leaders and positive name imagery. He also turned out to be a skilled candidate and campaigner.
The powerful Queens and Brooklyn Democratic organizations chose New York State Assemblyman David Weprin as the party’s candidate. Weprin came from a well-known and powerful Democratic family. The chosen David was presumed to be a Goliath.
For the special, Turner decided he needed to add some more professional help to his strong volunteer operation. He wanted experienced operatives who knew how to win in heavily Democratic New York.
Long, GOP State Chairman Ed Cox and myself recommended E. O’Brien Murray for the role of campaign manager. “O’B,” as his friends call him, had worked with former Gov. George Pataki and helped elect former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Back in 2009, he had helped bring Doug Hoffman within a hair of winning a special election on a third party ballot line. He quickly began organizing Turner’s volunteers for a guerrilla war in which we would be underfunded, but very aggressive.
New York-based media consultant Bill O’Reilly was also added to the team. He would run an aggressive earned media campaign to keep Weprin on defense and build Turner’s momentum on a daily, if not hourly, basis. (Bill isn’t related to his Fox News Channel namesake, but he is the nephew of conservative icon William F. Buckley.) As an extra resource, the NRCC had a new Northeast field manager in John Rogers, who had worked closely with O’B and O’Reilly before. He would prove a valuable partner.
The reality is that in New York, it takes a lot of Democratic votes to elect any Republican. Even if Turner won 90 percent of the Republican and Conservative Party vote and 60 percent of non-enrolled independents, he would still need more than a third of Democrats to win.
It meant we had to make major inroads among Catholic and Jewish Democrats. The focus had to be on keeping the Republicans and Conservatives fully motivated, while creating Democratic rejection of Weprin and support for Turner. We thought we could develop the necessary rejection on the economy and national security—particularly regarding relations with Israel.
The opportunity for the most important endorsement came early in the campaign. On a cable news show, former Mayor Ed Koch (D) said that he would likely support Weprin, but within a week Koch was saying the district could “consign itself to oblivion or be remembered in the history books.” Turner seized on the signal. He called Koch and met with him the next day. Turner assured him that they agreed on Israel, Social Security and Medicare and by the end of July Koch was standing next to Turner making what would be the most important endorsement in the race.
Koch had given Democrats in Brooklyn and Queens permission to vote for Turner. Now the Turner campaign had to make its case and send Obama a message from members of his own party.