The race to replace Anthony Weiner in NY-09 has taken a disturbing turn for Democrats.  Bob Turner, who lost in 2010 by a wide margin to the disgraced former Congressman, only narrowly trails David Weprin in what had been considered a safe district in the Big Apple.  Now the seat that once was held by Democratic luminaries like Chuck Schumer and Geraldine Ferraro has taken a back seat to a referendum on the Obama administration, and the New York Times finds itself surprised that Democrats could lose such a plebescite:

Of all the places to hear fulminations against President Obama, one of the least expected is the corner of 71st Avenue and Queens Boulevard, in the heart of a Congressional district that propelled Democrats like Geraldine A. Ferraro, Charles E. Schumer andAnthony D. Weiner to Washington.

But it was there that Dale Weiss, a 64-year-old Democrat, approached the Republican running for Congress in a special election and, without provocation, blasted the president for failing to tame runaway federal spending. “We need to cut Medicaid,” she declared, “but he won’t do that.” She shook her head in disgust. “He is a moron.”

After nodding approvingly for a time, the Republican candidate, Bob Turner, signaled for an assistant to cut off Ms. Weiss. Frustration with Mr. Obama is so widespread, he explained later, that he tries to limit such rants to about 30 seconds, or else they will consume most of his day. …

The race was widely viewed as a sleepy sideshow — a mere formality that would put David I. Weprin, a Democratic state assemblyman and heir to a Queens political dynasty, into a seat known for its deep blue hue.

Instead, the race has become something far more unsettling to Democrats: a referendum on the president and his party that is highlighting the surprisingly raw emotions of the electorate.

And despite the clear registration advantage in the district, Turner has caught up to Weprin.  A Siena College poll almost two weeks ago showed Weprin only leading by six points, and below the 50% level that would indicate enough strength for a victory.  Weprin loses 30% of Democrats in the district and trails among independents 42/46, and is down six points in Brooklyn, which has about 1/3rd of the district’s voters.

Perhaps that’s why Democrats got desperate enough to launch a robo-call campaign to label Turner a “Tea Party extremist” — an effort that prompted a retort from former New York City Mayor Ed Koch:

Nervous state Democrats are flooding voters with mailings blasting Republican candidate Bob Turner in the hotly contested 9th Congressional District, upping the ante in the closer-than-expected race to succeed disgraced ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner.

With President Obama’s standing in the polls in free fall, the state Democratic Committee’s mailings to Queens and Brooklyn residents accuse Turner of being a “Tea Party extremist” who wants to dismantle Social Security and Medicare.

Turner struck back with a “robo-call” from former Mayor Ed Koch yesterday, slamming Democratic rival David Weprin for lying to scare senior citizens. …

Democrat Koch, who crossed parties to endorse Turner, said in a recorded telephone message to thousands of seniors in the district, “David Weprin is making phone calls trying to scare seniors. They’re nonsense. Weprin should be ashamed of himself . . . Bob Turner is running for Congress to protect your Medicare and Social Security.

“If anyone tries to scare you with lies about Bob Turner, tell ’em Ed Koch told them to knock it off!”

The Times interviewed a number of Democrats who expressed anger at Obama’s performance.  One said that Obama was ‘way off base in his spending”; another called Weprin “part of the party regime.”  Even one member of the DNC from New York admitted that the election is much less about Turner and Weprin than it is about Barack Obama.

If that’s become a bad thing in New York City and NY-09, just imagine what it will look like in 2012 across the rest of the country.