Republican Bob Turner defeated Democratic state Assemblyman David Weprin in the special election for New York's 9th Congressional District held on Tuesday.
The seat opened in June when popular Democratic incumbent Anthony Weiner resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives after revelations that he was sending X-rated photos of himself to women he met online.
After casting his vote Tuesday, Turner, creator of the The Jerry Springer Show, said the election "is the only contested national election on the federal level, so it is in a way a referendum on President Obama's policies."
Obama has a lowly 45 percent national approval rating and risks being dragged down by the floundering economy as he gears up for a tough November 2012 election to stay in the White House.
But Weprin, casting his vote, told NY1 television that voters were angrier at Tea Party wing Republicans than at Obama. They "basically held the nation hostage," he said. "I think we're gonna get that message out."
Samuel Abrams, professor of political science at Sarah Lawrence College outside New York City, said special elections like this often take on wider meaning as frustrated voters try to show off their power.
"A lot of times when you have an open seat like this it ends up as a referendum," Abrams said. "Voters get very hot and bothered and use these opportunities to be very expressive... They know the eyes of the United States are looking at them."
But there were also significant local issues, especially the heavy concentration in the district of Orthodox Jews, who are socially very conservative and also fervently pro-Israeli.
Weprin, as a state assemblyman, voted for same sex marriage in New York and also has backed the constitutional right of Muslims to build an Islamic center near the site of the 9/11 attacks in downtown Manhattan. Turner, in contrast, portrayed himself as a social conservative and his campaign ads resurrected last year's bitter public debate over the so-called "Ground Zero mosque."
Turner won the support of a former New York mayor and lifelong Jewish Democrat, Ed Koch.
But Weprin also fielded some big guns, with automated phone messages urging votes for him from former president Bill Clinton and current New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
With additional reporting by Raw Story