Winning ugly

By all appearances, Republicans are poised to win tomorrow’s special election in New York’s 9th, a seat left vacant by Anthony Weiner’s resignation. It’s generally a Democratic stronghold, making the likely GOP victory quite surprising.

There are plenty of factors at play, including President Obama’s slipping support in the congressional district, but it’s worth appreciating the kind of campaign Republicans are running. They’re pretty confident of success, but not confident enough to avoid trashy tactics like these.

In anticipation of this somber day [the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks], the New York GOP sent out “a kitchen-sink mailer in the hotly-contested Queens congressional special election depicting a mosque superimposed over the scarred Ground Zero site on one side, and Democrat David Weprin alongside President Barack Obama on the other.”

The incendiary flier was sent out on behalf of Republican businessman Bob Turner who is seeking to take former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D) seat…. [T]he front of the flier features a gold-domed mosque rising out of the ruins of the World Trade Center site with a quote from Weprin stating “I support the right of the mosque to build.” The other side places Weprin next to Obama and reads “Weprin stands with Obama — and they stand together in support of the mosque at Ground Zero.”

In case anyone’s forgotten the relevant details, the attack is, among other things, a lie. The Park51 project isn’t a mosque and it’s not at Ground Zero. David Weprin and President Obama, along with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and plenty of Republicans, were talking about a community center in Lower Manhattan, spearheaded by a Bush administration ally.

But that doesn’t sound scary, and it certainly doesn’t win votes. What Turner and the GOP need is to make voters feel frightened and angry, so this mailing follows on the heels of a Turner television ad accusing “some” of wanting to “commemorate” 9/11 “by building a mosque on Ground Zero.”

This is the politics of bigotry and hysteria. It’s ugly, it’s divisive, and it plays voters for fools. And apparently, if the polls are right, it’s going to win.

Making matters slightly worse, while both Turner and Weprin stopped campaigning on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks yesterday, Republicans spent the day leaking the details of a 25-year old child custody hearing casting Weprin in a negative light.

Come Wednesday morning, I suspect many of these details will be largely ignored. The pundits will obsess over “Democrats in disarray” and “voters send Obama a message,” because ultimately, a win is a win, and this is a district where the GOP seemingly had no chance.

But when it comes to decency and honor in public service — or in this case, the lack thereof — I hope some folks will remember what Republicans had to do to flip this seat.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.