Commentary Magazine


Does Turner Give the GOP a Chance Against Gillibrand?

The 2010-midterm elections were a historic victory for the Republicans around the country, but New York State was one of the few bright spots for the Democrats. As expected, Andrew Cuomo won a landslide victory in his quest to succeed his father in the governor’s chair, and Chuck Schumer faced only token opposition in his re-election bid. However, the really painful loss for the GOP involved the way they threw away a golden opportunity to knock off Kirsten Gillibrand as the woman appointed by former Governor David Patterson to succeed Hillary Clinton easily won the right to serve out the rest of the secretary of state’s term. Gillibrand was fortunate in that her opponent, Joseph DioGuardi, was the least electable of a not terribly impressive GOP field. Gillibrand was vulnerable due to the way she had transformed herself from a moderate in the House of Representatives to Senate liberal, but she barely broke a sweat as she beat DioGuardi by a 63-35 percent margin.

The question for the all but moribund New York GOP heading into the 2012 election in which Gillibrand is running for a full six-year term was which of the nonentities seeking the right to oppose the senator would get the nod. But the announcement today that Rep. Bob Turner will run should inject some life if not actual hope into the state Republican Party.

Having won the special election to replace the disgraced Anthony Weiner in New York’s 9th congressional district last September, Turner is as close to being a hot political property as it gets for New York Republicans. That victory was a big deal for the GOP in that Turner was able to leverage concern about President Obama’s policy toward Israel in the heavily Jewish 9th into an unprecedented defeat for the Democrats in a district that spreads across the deep blue New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. However, redistricting doomed the 9th, so a rerun of Turner’s successful campaign is unlikely in any of the redrawn districts in the area. So it makes sense for the congressman to try his luck against Gillibrand.

Turner immediately brings more credibility to the table than any of the other Republicans who have stepped forward to join the race. A retired cable television executive, he ran a smart congressional campaign that turned a long shot candidacy into an upset with national implications. He will likely be able to use that success to raise enough money to compete against Gillibrand. But it may be asking a bit too much to think he has more than an outside chance of actually winning the seat.

Though she has demonstrated an unusual capacity for hypocrisy, Gillibrand is a hard worker and a formidable fundraiser. With a built-in advantage in registration and the assumption that President Obama will win New York easily this fall, the odds of any Republican defeating Gillibrand are slim. Nevertheless, if the dead from the neck up state GOP can get its act together and clear the way for Turner to get the nomination, he may be able to make both Gillibrand and the Democrats work harder to keep New York in their column.