Just six months after scoring an unlikely victory in the special election to fill disgraced New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner’s seat in Congress, Republican Rep. Bob Turner has successfully won a spot on New York’s Republican senate primary ballot to challenge Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in November.
Despite throwing his hat into the ring at the very last moment, Turner managed to scrounge up the necessary 25-percent support from county Republican parties at Friday’s New York Republican Party Convention. By doing so, he earned himself a place on the primary ballot alongside two other Republicans: Manhattan Attorney Wendy Long and Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos. Long fell just short of the 50-percent support she needed to secure the nomination outright.
“This is happening really quickly,” Turner said in a phone interview with The Daily Caller.
Turner jumped into the race just 72 hours before the convention, after it became clear that he would not likely be able to hold his House seat after redistricting.
Irreconcilable maps drawn by the Democratic-controlled State Assembly and the Republican-controlled State Senate led to the state finally adopting a map drawn by a neutral judge. The resulting map left Turner, already the unlikely representative of a primarily Democratic district, with few options.
“I had planned on defending this seat,” Turner explained. “As of Monday, I was advised that we really didn’t have a district that was defendable.”
“I’ll take a tough fight,” Turner said, but the way the lines were drawn, he not only couldn’t win, “we couldn’t compete.”
“So I’ve been blocked out of the process and the only avenue open, I think, is the Senate if I want to keep the fight going, and I do,” he said.
Turner’s main argument for his candidacy is the high profile he gained after winning last September’s special election, which became a national race as polls tightened and both Democrats and Republicans poured in money. He cited “a recognizable name” as one advantage he holds over Long and Maragos. Turner referred to himself as a “known entity,” something he said would help with fundraising.
He added that he hopes to tap into money from “Wall Street types,” the “Jewish community,” as and out of state money to finance his campaign.
“I have a proven record in taking on a very difficult challenge and succeeding,” Turner said. “I think I have some credibility in a very important community, the Jewish community. The 9th CD [special election] was the first time a Republican had ever won the Jewish vote here, and that’s significant.”
“Also my business background is a little different than the others’. I’ve been in both the media business and worked in raising money financially for my own efforts. I kind of know how business works,” he said.
That high name recognition may be somewhat overstated in New York as a whole. Although Turner pulled off a win in a Democratic-leaning district last year, his golden-boy status does not appear to extend to upstate New York, whose delegations gave Turner only minimal support at the convention.
Turner dismissed those concerns, saying he had pulled off a huge feat just by getting on the ballot, something he had been told “would be almost impossible” entering the race as late as he did.
“Our message was good, we got enough support just to do that [get on the ballot],” Turner said. “I think there are some areas of the state where I have to work a lot harder, but I think there’s a big difference between the party structure and the voters.”
“So I’m hoping, and expecting, that I can get the message out to upstate and downstate and get the job done.”
Gillibrand’s campaign aimed its sights on Turner immediately after he entered the race, in what is perhaps a favorable indication for him.
In his previous incarnation as a television executive, Turner was the first to put conservative shock jock Rush Limbaugh on TV. At a time when Limbaugh is a lightning in the ongoing battle between Democrats and Republicans over social issues, Gillibrand’s campaign has started hitting Turner on his Limbaugh connection in fundraising emails.
Turner pooh-poohed that attack.
“I put Rush on the air for a few years,” he said, calling the result “very successful.”
“He would have stayed on a lot longer if Rush didn’t get tired of the work schedule — it was tough doing the radio and the television [show].”
He called Limbaugh’s TV program “well-produced and entertaining,” and noted that “it was a commercial enterprise,” nothing more.
“I have no apologies, and if they want to beat this dead horse — that was off the air in ’96 — they’ve got to do better than that,” Turner said.
Whether or not Turner — or any Republican candidate — can put the Senate race in play remains to be seen. As of two weeks ago, before Turner had entered the race, Gillibrand’s seat was considered a safe seat for Democrats, ranked a solidly Democratic seat by the Cook Political Report.
But Turner argued that Gillibrand, who was ranked this year by National Journal as the most liberal senator, is not “a strong candidate.”
“She’s been kind of a rubber stamp for the party, and established the most liberal voting record in the Senate, and she’s going have to defend her positions on taxes, the deficit, spending, the economy, the job growth, the Dodd-Frank unintended consequences, and on and on,” Turner said.
“And I’ll be hammering away on all of these, that she’s somebody who has not served the interest of this state or the country in getting the economy revived or dealing with the major issues.”
Already, Turner has begun “hammering away” by holding a press conference Sunday in front of a gas station to attack Gillibrand and the Obama administration for high gas prices.
But Turner says he will treat his two primary opponents differently, heeding concerns voiced by members of the party that a bloody Republican primary would leave the victor with virtually no chance at beating Gillibrand in the general election.
“I have a good deal of respect for both Wendy and George … we have slightly different approaches on this,” he said.
“Most of the difference is who is the candidate to get the job done against Senator Gillibrand, and I think it’s me. They have a different opinion.”