Anthony Weiner’s reign as the undisputed frontrunner in this year’s New York City mayoral election lasted less than 24 hours. On Tuesday evening, a poll taken by Marist, the Wall Street Journal, and NBC New York showed Weiner leading his Democratic rivals for the first time, but Wednesday afternoon, a Quinnipiac poll was released that put the former congressman in a statistical dead heat with two of his other opponents, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and former Comptroller Bill Thompson.
Thanks to the irresistible tale of his comeback candidacy after the Twitter scandal that saw him resign from the House of Representatives in 2011, Weiner’s brief stint in first place led to a slew of breathless headlines declaring him the “frontrunner.” However, in spite of the hype surrounding Weiner, the conflicting poll numbers, and a crowded field that includes seven main candidates, operatives on multiple campaigns told TPM they believe the race is clearly shaping up as a three-way contest between Weiner, Quinn, and Thompson.Notwithstanding the 12-year rule of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who first reached City Hall as a Republican before becoming an independent, and the eight-year run of his predecessor, Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani, New York has generally proven to be a staunchly Democratic town. This year, the city seems set to live up to that reputation. One thing the polls have agreed on throughout this race is that any of the main Democrats would easily defeat their Republican rivals in a general election. Because of this, the Democratic primary is the race’s most crucial contest.
Though insiders believe Quinn, Weiner, and Thompson are emerging as the leaders of the pack, none of them appears to be on a path to make it out of the Sept. 10 primary without a run-off. New York City election law provides that, if no one earns at least 40 percent of the primary vote, the top two candidates will face off in a run-off Sept. 24. No candidate has demonstrated the potential to hit this magic number since late February, when Quinnipiac showed Quinn with a nearly run-off proof 37 percent.
Operatives on multiple leading campaigns told TPM they are preparing for multiple potential run-off matchups, a sign of just how competitive they believe the field really is. Marist polled hypothetical runoff matches, and Weiner, Thompson, and Quinn were all within two points of each other and essentially statistically tied in each of their theoretical faceoffs.
While the Marist poll placed Weiner firmly in first with 25 percent followed by Quinn with 21 and Thompson at 14, Quinnipiac had Quinn, Weiner, and Thompson statistically tied at 19, 17, and 16 percent, respectively.
Weiner downplayed his numbers at his first public event following the Marist poll Tuesday, but his campaign is clearly pleased with his performance. On Wednesday, Weiner’s director of operations and finance Lisa Hernandez Gioia sent a fundraising email to supporters that included links to articles describing Weiner as “the frontrunner,” a “major contender,” and “the top choice.”
“As Anthony always says, the only poll we are focused on is the one on September 10th … but that doesn’t mean we don’t read the papers,” Gioia wrote.
Despite his currently strong positioning in the polls, Weiner still faces some of the hurdles that made experts and operatives initially dismissive about his prospects.
Weiner’s early momentum has been fueled by an almost celebrity status he has enjoyed thanks to his scandalous past. All that extra attention has benefited Weiner in the form of nearly constant press coverage and, according to both of the recent polls, the highest name recognition of any of the Democratic candidates in the race. However, given its scandalous roots, not all of that name recognition is positive. Both polls also showed Weiner has the largest number of voters who view him unfavorably of the three leading candidates raising the possibility his numbers have less potential for improvement than his opponents’.
So far, Weiner hasn’t earned any major union endorsements like Thompson, Quinn and even the man generally considered the fourth-place candidate, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. Combined with Weiner’s relatively late entry to the race, it raises the question of whether Weiner’s ground game will be able to compete with his opposition. Weiner’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
If Quinn is elected, she would be both the first female and first openly gay mayor to sit in City Hall. Those unique attributes have helped her draw national media attention such as in the wake of Wednesday’s Supreme Court decisions on gay marriage when she appeared on MSNBC to discuss the rulings. That national appeal along with her position as council speaker has given Quinn the second-highest name recognition in the race. Her work leading the council also allows Quinn and her supporters to argue she has the most substantial experience among the crop of candidates.
However, Quinn’s high-profile role in city government could also prove a liability. Her council leadership has included its share of controversies and her unfavorables are second only to Weiner. Some of the enemies Quinn made among the council members have also indicated they might try to make things difficult for her as she makes her move for the mayoralty. Quinn’s campaign did not respond to a request to comment on this story.
Thompson’s main issue is the fact he’s currently trailing Weiner and Quinn and is on pace to be the one left out of a run-off. He has also been dogged by criticism he’s run a lackluster campaign whereas Quinn and Weiner are both extremely gifted retail politicians.
However, Thompson’s supporters and aides argue early polls in local races are often flawed and are overly reliant on name recognition, a category where Thompson lags behind both Quinn and Weiner. As a relative unknown, Thompson also has far lower unfavorables than either Quinn or Weiner and may have more potential to climb. As the only major African American candidate in the race, Thompson is likely to earn strong support from black voters, a group that is traditionally under-polled and late to align behind a candidate. Thompson’s undercounted appeal among African Americans was a major factor behind polls that underestimated him when he pulled off a surprising second-place finish against Bloomberg’s more-than-$100-million campaign operation in 2009.
Jonathan Prince, Thompson’s chief campaign strategist and manager, told TPM he’s confident about his candidate in spite of the polls.
“We’re not going to make a fuss about early polls when they’re good for us or bad for us, because they’re all early polls. This race will be decided in late summer, and one of the people on the other end of it will be Bill Thompson — who is always underestimated and who always closes strong,” Prince said.
Though the conventional wisdom increasingly seems to be that this is a three-way race, there are, of course, several other candidates vying for the Democratic nomination. De Blasio has the best argument for a potential insurgency thanks to a strong staff that includes multiple veterans of President Barack Obama’s campaign team and the fact he has topped or statistically tied Thompson in multiple polls. His rivals may be ready to count him out of the race, but de Blasio’s supporters argue he has a natural appeal to the city’s more liberal voters, specifically in the “brownstone” neighborhoods of Brooklyn that will help him gain ground.