By Edith Honan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The election to replace Anthony Weiner, who resigned from Congress after being revealed as an internet womanizer who used Twitter to send lewd pictures of himself, is more competitive than anyone expected.
Republicans are hoping for an upset in a September 13 special House of Representatives election and a repudiation of President Barack Obama in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1.
The contest pits Democrat David Weprin, a state assemblyman from a well-connected political family, against Republican Bob Turner, a retired media executive who won 40 percent of the vote last year in his unsuccessful bid to unseat Weiner.
Pollster Lee Miringoff of the Marist Institute said the race offered voters a taste of what to expect in the national election next year.
"If the Republicans win, then they'll say President Obama is vulnerable. And if the Democrats win, then they'll say the Tea Party is dragging the Republicans down," Miringoff said, referring to the fiscally conservative Tea Party movement.
In a district that has gone Democrat in every election since the 1920s, polls suggest it will be close. An August 10 Siena Research Institute poll had Weprin ahead of Turner by six points, 48 percent to 42 percent.
The race in the heavily Jewish district also includes a dose of Middle East politics, with former New York mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat, crossing party lines to the support the Republican in protest of Obama's stance on Israel.
Weiner, who served for seven terms, was a Democratic firebrand known for passionate speeches in support of healthcare reform and other issues dear to liberals.
Weprin has raised $500,000 to Turner's $200,000 but appears to lack Weiner's political gusto. On the New York City Council he gained a reputation as bland. He then ran unsuccessfully in 2009 for New York City comptroller before filling the state assembly seat vacated by his brother.
While Weiner was a rising Democratic star and widely tipped to be the next mayor of New York City, inheriting his seat may be a poisoned chalice since it may be eliminated by redistricting planned for next year.
TEA OR COFFEE?
Weprin has tried to cast Turner as part of the Tea Party, which wants smaller government and lower taxes and is unpopular to many liberal New Yorkers.
"I always say Bob's a coffee drinker," Turner spokesman William O'Reilly said, denying any Tea Party affiliation.
Republicans control the House 240 to 192, with three vacancies. Like the Weiner case, the other two vacancies also stem from sex scandals.
Also on September 13 in Nevada, a special election will be held to fill the House seat Dean Heller vacated in May when he moved to the Senate. Heller replaced Republican John Ensign, who resigned after having an extramarital affair with a staffer.
Democrat David Wu resigned from the House last month after being accused of an unwanted sexual encounter with a campaign donor's 18-year-old daughter. A special election to fill his seat will be held in January, following a November primary.
During a debate on Tuesday on former New York Governor David Paterson's radio show, Weprin attacked Turner, saying the state needs more, not less, federal spending, and called himself a champion of the elderly, children and the disabled.
Turner, who said he entered politics because he was "fed up" with overspending in Washington, said voters could send a message by electing him.
"For better or for worse, this election is a referendum on President Obama, the economy and the state of Israel," Turner said.
Dragging Israel into the campaign is no accident -- the district, which includes parts of Brooklyn and Queens, has a large Orthodox Jewish population.
Koch, the feisty former mayor, shook up the race in July by endorsing Turner, saying he was reacting to "President Obama's open hostility to the state of Israel."
Weprin, a Jew, says he is a strong supporter of Israel.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro in Washington, editing by Mark Egan and Daniel Trotta)