Framing the Race
By the end of July, we knew that Turner was within striking distance. In our first poll, he trailed by only 8 points with 22 percent of likely voters undecided. There was strong voter dissatisfaction, even among the most loyal Democrats.
Among Jewish voters, 58 percent disapproved of Obama. On the president’s handling of relations with Israel, 70 percent of Jewish voters in the district disapproved.
On the issues, the Democrats agreed with the Republicans in the district. And the ethnic Catholic voters backed up the Jewish voters on issues related to Israel and security.
Turner could now play offense on two major themes: improving the economy and strengthening security. O’B asked us to quickly put together a poll memo to try to get donors. The Washington insiders scoffed, “The Republicans can’t win special elections in upstate New York Republican districts. They won’t win in New York 9.”
On August 10, Siena College released a public poll that showed Weprin leading by just 6 percentage points—48 percent to 42 percent. Turner was getting 30 percent of Democrats to Weprin’s 60 percent.
It was time for a little paid media—and we do mean a little. The campaign was running on financial fumes. Turner had invested another $65,000 on top of the money he put in last year. Some money was coming in from friends and true believers in New York, but it was nothing near what Republicans had invested in previous losing special elections in NY-20, NY-23 and NY-26.
O’B had found a worker with a year old clip from a previous debate of Weprin supporting the building of a mosque near Ground Zero. The talented media producer Chris Mottola would make our one and only TV ad, which would link Obama and Weprin on building the mosque. The ad went up on August 11 and ran for less than a week, but the point was made in free media. It wouldn’t run again until the last week of the race and then only on cable for $35,000. Weprin attacked Turner for raising the issue before the 10th anniversary of 9/11. But Turner stuck to his position and it backfired on Weprin.
Four weeks out from Election Day, the earned media was moving fast and furious and the New York and the national media now had the race in focus. Bob was running between Manhattan and his outer borough district for TV and radio hits while keeping up a full schedule of local media appearances—Russian radio, Jewish weeklies, synagogue and community group debates. O’B made sure the voters knew when Weprin was outside waiting for Turner to finish an appearance before he would go in. And O’Reilly handed out duck whistles to emphasize Weprin “ducking” debates.
The race was now getting daily media coverage in the largest media market in America.
Capitalizing on the Mistakes
Turner made reckless government spending a central issue in his campaign and Weprin offered us a great opportunity to highlight it. In an interview with The Daily News, Weprin understated the national debt by $10 trillion.
At that very moment, we were deciding our plan for the campaign’s final week and running on fumes. O’B was doing financial triage every day. He was deciding hourly what calls, mailings, ads and payroll we could afford as donations rolled in. He needed to know if Turner could really win.