Obama’s undertow

    And to think that it all began with a congressman who tweeted his crotch.Talk about the law of unintended consequences: When Anthony Weiner took time out from his busy schedule to explore the wonders of virtual exhibitionism, he surely never imagined that his e-antics would ultimately expose the Obama White House to major political embarrassment.But that indeed is how things stand this morning. In the special election triggered by Weiner’s June abdication, voters in the heavily Democratic 9th congressional district, which comprises parts of Brooklyn and Queens, chose the Republican candidate – for the first time since a young Babe Ruth was swatting home runs at the old Polo Grounds. And if you’re not hip to a baseball reference, this one might work: When that district last went Republican, Warren G. Harding was in the White House.Some Democrats may try to spin Bob Turner’s GOP victory as a mostly local phenomenon. For instance: the heavily-voting Orthodox Jews were somehow (wrongly) convinced that President Obama wants to throw Israel under a bus, and Orthodox Jews didn’t like Obama in 2008, either. The Democratic candidate, David Weprin, was so inept that he publicly understated the size of the national debt by 10 trillion dollars, and, besides, the Orthodox Jews hated the fact that Weprin, as a state assemblyman, had voted Yes on gay marriage. All true, as far as it goes. But the Democratic spinners would probably be wasting their time.Bottom line? In normal times, Weprin would’ve been pulled across the finish line by the Queens Democratic turnout machine even if he had been caught dancing naked with a Palestianian on Queens Boulevard. Absent the current economic anxieties, and the current endemic disgust with incumbent politicians, Weprin would’ve survived. But the undertow was too great. There’s no way for national Democrats to minimize the anecdotally abundant evidence that the district’s motivated voters were intent on sending Obama a message. What precisely the policy message is, who knows. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is, the status quo is bad and Obama heads the status quo. And that alone should be sufficient to freak out downballot Democrats who are running (or weighing runs) in 2012.One of our most prominent political gurus, Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia, is noticeably ill-enthused by this political story; last night, on Twitter, he huffed: “I don’t give a tweet about special elections! I’d never deprive either party of chest thumping after a special election win. Knock yourself out! But specials aren’t predictive.”OK, he’s right, they’re not always predictive of future trends. Republicans had lost 23 of 34 special elections dating back to 2003 – again, for you baseball fans, that’s a paltry .323 winning percentage – but they had often bounced back in the regularly scheduled contests. In a special election this past May, Democrats captured an upstate New York seat that had long been held by a Republican (it had been vacated by Internet sex cruiser Christopher Lee and his six-pack abdomen), but clearly that win didn’t ripple down to Brooklyn-Queens. Indeed, a key factor in the May race, the House GOP’s vote to dismantle Medicare, was notably AWOL this time.At minimum, however, special elections can give us a freeze frame of the public mood. The news last night was that despite a 3-1 Democratic registration, despite well-oiled labor-backed turnout machinery, despite the House Democratic political team dumping $600,000 into the race, despite appeals from Andrew Cuomo and Bill Clinton and everybody prominent Democratic aside from Obama, the voters refused to comply. For Democrats, that’s a grim tableau.And when you combine that loss with last night’s special-election tally in Nevada (where a moderate Democrat lost a House race in a blowout), and the recent special- election in California (where a Democrat won a House race by an underwhelming margin in a heavily Democratic district), it’s clear that the Obama White House has a major PR disaster on its hands.No doubt there are Democrats this morning who wish that the party had simply allowed Anthony Weiner to go off to rehab and keep his seat. But as Nanci Griffith sings, “If wishes were changes/ We’d all live in roses.” If-onlys don’t cut in politics. For the foreseeable future, Obama is stuck with the thorns.  ——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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