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Weprin Faces Tough Road to Victory in Big Apple

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Candidate David Weprin addresses a gathering of the Ohr Natan congregation of Bukharian Jews in the Rego Park section of Queens.

In the Democratic-leaning Kew Gardens and Forest Hills neighborhoods of Queens and the more conservative Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn, dozens of residents responded to inquiries about the race with the same question: "What special election?"

Carrying groceries back home in Kew Gardens, Frederick and Rimma Chipkin were two of the rare people aware of the campaigns.

"We've gotten the nasty mail," Frederick said, referring to direct mail attacking Weprin. "I would usually vote for the Democrat, but now I'll definitely vote Democratic."

The fact that direct mail is serving to alert voters that there is an election underscores the difficulty of communication in a district where TV ads are prohibitively expensive. There are no independent expenditures on TV from outside groups in this race. Instead, campaign events are front-loaded each week to make the local weekly papers' end-of-the-week deadlines.

Weprin does a number of events at senior centers where, Dilemani said, the residents respond well to his message. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) campaigned with Weprin at a senior center in Queens on Tuesday. The Weprin campaign has mostly stuck with the national Democratic message of protecting Medicare and Social Security and contrasting that with what it says is the GOP plan to "decimate" the entitlement programs.

While it is unclear just how effective or potent a message that is in this diverse district, Weprin does not strike observers as a particularly good communicator.

"Weprin isn't much of a candidate," one Democrat with knowledge of the district said dismissively.

In a five minute interview with Roll Call outside the subway stop, he uttered the phrase "you know" more than 40 times.

'Bleeding Blue'

On busy Crossbay Boulevard in the Howard Beach neighborhood of Queens at a small campaign office nestled between an empanada stand and a law office, Turner casually paced back and forth. He walked between about 20 volunteers making calls on his behalf and a Jets-Giants preseason game on TV. Turner, 70, tossed roasted peanuts into his mouth and offered the container to those standing around him. Having prepared for a debate that Weprin dropped out of, Turner appeared to be slightly unsure of what to do with the sudden chunk of free time on his hands.

On the campaign trail, Turner, a political novice until his run against Weiner in 2010, appeared lukewarm on the retail aspect of politics. "Some days are more fun than others, let me tell you," he said. In order to become a Congressman, he explained, "one must go through the political games, so I'm doing it."

Huge colorful maps of the district, street by street, covered the walls of the small office. The campaign hopes the more conservative areas, like the Brooklyn section that voted 57 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008, will turn out in full force.

As volunteers came in, Turner lit up with recognition and greeted them by name. Most called him Bob. Turner focused his attention on the game as his favored team, the Giants, tried to move the ball forward.

"I've been bleeding blue since 1958," he said with a wide smile. Ultimately the Giants lost, 17-3.

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