New Target

Bob Turner, Weiner-Slayer, Takes Aim at Kirsten Gillibrand

Bob Turner, the Scott Brown of the Rockaways, aims to take his act statewide. Ben Jacobs reports.

Anthony Weiner’s sex scandal gave Bob Turner 15 seconds of fame and 16 months in Congress starting last September. Now, the new Republican congressman from Queens who won a stunning upset in last year in the special election to replace Anthony Weiner wants to extend his time in the spotlight for another six years by running for the U.S. Senate. Unfortunately for Turner, it’s not likely to happen.

Turner, a 70-year-old retired television producer who’d made a small fortune working with a bipartisan array of loudmouths from Jerry Springer to Rush Limbaugh, was briefly a national figure with his win in what had seemed a safely Democratic seat, the Scott Brown of the Rockaways. But the upset also meant the district was likely to be drawn off the map by New York’s Democratic Assembly.

Despite that, Turner took his time deciding to challenge Kirsten Gillibrand—the surprise pick by then-governor David Paterson to fill the Senate seat that Hillary Clinton left to become secretary of State—joining the fray just days before the state Republican convention this weekend. That move has alienated some of the state’s conservative leaders, who’ve already thrown their support to other candidates in a field of Republican longshots the right-leaning New York Post has dismissed as “non-entities.”

It’s “rather late in the game” to join the race, said Conservative Party chair Mike Long, when other candidates “have been running up and down the state for the past two months.”

Even if Turner does claim the Republican and Conservative party lines, he won’t have the unique advantages he had in his 2011 upset, when he was a Tea Party candidate also endorsed by Ed Koch. That enabled him to mobilize GOP voters in a low-turnout special election while still reaching out to Jewish Democrats, who, following Koch’s example, wanted to use the race to send the party a warning shot about President Obama’s relationship with Israel. This year, a Tea Party affiliation seems more baggage than benefit in New York, and Koch is on Gillibrand’s reelection committee.

Past that, Turner has to find a way to fund a campaign in a vast and very expensive state. His most recent campaign report states that he has just over $70,000 on hand, a sum insufficient for a competitive city council race. The same report also shows Turner has $65,500 in debt, all of it cash that he loaned to his own campaign last year.

In his special election win, Turner didn’t have to raise much money and was able to significantly self-fund. But while the first-term Congressman may be well off, he can’t afford the eight-figure price tag of a statewide campaign. Jessica Proud, a Turner spokewoman, said hopefully that she expected “superPACs would come in” to help support his bid.

While Gillibrand will be making her first run for a full six-year term, she’s the incumbent and has had years in office to build up her name recognition—and in a state that last elected a Republican senator in 1992 and where every GOP candidate since has lost by double digits. The line of attack that the Turner campaign has been using, criticizing Gillibrand as “part of the Obama administration’s massive expansion of federal government,” just won’t fly in a state the president won by 25 points in 2008.

‘Odder things have happened,” than a second surprise Turner win, said longtime New York Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. “But I wouldn’t hock the house.”