NEW YORK (Reuters) - Disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner voted for Democrat David Weprin to replace him in Tuesday's special election, saying it would be "bad" if the seat went to a Republican for the first time in nearly a century.
Democratic leaders in Washington, acknowledging a surprisingly strong threat from the Republican candidate in the solidly Democratic district of Brooklyn and Queens, said the race will likely be seen as a voter referendum on President Barack Obama's leadership.
Recent polls show Republican Bob Turner, a retired media executive who won 40 percent of votes last year in a failed bid to unseat Weiner, leading over Weprin, a state assemblyman from a well-connected political family.
Weiner was among a steady flow of New Yorkers at the polls for the special election to finish out the final year of his term in the U.S. House of Representatives after he resigned amid a Twitter sex scandal. The 9th District seat may be eliminated in upcoming redistricting.
He showed up alone, wearing jeans and a blazer, stating that he voted for Weprin, adding, "I am confident he'd make an excellent congressman."
As for the possibility that the Democrats could lose the seat for the first time since the 1920s, Weiner said, "It is always bad when a district goes Republican. All 435 should be Democrat."
Asked whether it was his fault if the Republicans gain a seat out of the scandal, Weiner said, "If you made a list of 10 fervent defenders of Democratic ideals, I would be on it."
Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, the top Republican, said given the area's rich Democratic history and tilt, "This is not a district that we have any right to believe we can win."
"But we do have a good candidate," Boehner told reporters. "Hope springs eternal."
Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district three to one.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said of the New York race, "It is much closer than anyone thought it would be."
"Every election reflects on the person in charge," he said. "Do I think it is an overall statement on the president alone? No. Do I think ... it will be interpreted as a statement on Obama? That is probably correct."
Weprin has tried to cast Turner as part of the Tea Party, which wants smaller government and lower taxes and is unpopular with many liberal New Yorkers. Turner hopes voters will repudiate Obama's economic policies.
Weiner resigned after admitting he used Twitter to send lewd pictures of himself to women.
Republicans also expect to easily hold a Nevada House seat -- the only other congressional election on Tuesday. The Nevada election is in a rural district that has never sent a Democrat to Congress.
Republicans control the House 240-192 with three vacancies.
(Reporting by Edith Honan, Paula Rogo and Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Mark Egan, Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)