As the former congressman polls second behind Christine Quinn, Anthony Weiner looks set to come back from his sexting scandal
Anthony Weiner looks primed to shake up a dormant New York City mayoral race with his entry – should he get in the race officially. After appearing in print and on television, as well as putting out a policy notebook in the last week, the former New York congressman can now add “second-place poll finisher” to his resume.
Marist has published a survey of the Democratic primary race showing frontrunner Christine Quinn at 26%, Weiner at 15%, John Liu at 12%, Bill de Blasio at 11%, and Bill Thompson at 11%.
I take the poll as mostly good news for Weiner in his quest to take Gracie Mansion. Why?
1. Weiner has gone straight in at second spot
The fact that Weiner can shoot up to second place without even officially entering the race is a strong sign. What makes it even stronger is the fact that second place in a New York City mayoral primary is a ticket to the next round. When no candidate reaches 40%, the top two finishers go forward to a runoff. Quinn’s not anywhere close to 40%, while Weiner’s sitting pretty in second.
New York City runoffs can be odd ducks. You can end with a situation like the 1993 Comptroller primary where the incumbent Liz Holtzman finished second in the first round, then lost the second round with a lower percentage of the vote than she’d won in the first. You could have a 2001 mayoral primary scenario where Mark Green lost the first round by 5pt and won the second round by 2pt.
The point is that anything can happen in a runoff. The key is to live in the first round to fight another day.
2. Weiner has the potential to build a stronger position
The one thing I was struck by upon reading the Marist poll is that Weiner’s in a far stronger position than he was just two months ago. In Marist’s February poll, Weiner’s favorable rating among Democrats stood at 34%. That’s now up to 45%. His unfavorable rating is down 2pt, from 43% to 41%. Overall, that’s a 13pt gain in net favorability.
The percentage of Democrats who want him to run for mayor is also way up. The percentage of Democrats who wanted Weiner to run just after the sex scandal was only 27%. That’s up to 40% now. The percentage who don’t want him to run is down from 65% to 46%. Together, it’s a net 32pt turnaround for Weiner.
The point is that it would be a mistake to treat Weiner’s favorables now as stable. The more time that has passed since his sex scandal, the more people seem to be warming to him again. His recent press tour mostly garnered positive press; it certainly did not backfire – people were not turned off. With his wife Huma Abedin by his side, it’ll be awfully difficult for opponents to try and hang the Twitter-sexting scandal around his neck.
3. Quinn is an unusually weak frontrunner
Under attack for a record that many believe is not all that liberal, Quinn’s campaign has faltered. Quinn was at 37% two months ago; she’s now at 26% with Weiner in the field. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that her numbers are going in the wrong direction. That’s good news for candidates not named Quinn.
The 26% is the lowest polling result for a Democratic frontrunner since 1977. Keep in mind that that field was evenly divided not because the candidates were weak, but because they were all so strong. It included women’s right leader Bella Abzug, future Governor Mario Cuomo, and Ed Koch, among others. This year, Quinn is at 26% even as the third-placed John Liu’s former campaign treasurer is on trial for campaign funding fraud.
Even the “meh” candidacy of Ruth Messinger in 1997 was in the upper 30s at this point. And Fernando Ferrer, who would go on to lose the general election by 20pt, was also polling in the upper 30s at in 2005.
For Quinn to have been running for many months, to have been on the cover of New York Magazine, and still to only be at 26% will be a dismayingly feeble result for her campaign managers. Her base, too, seems one that may be unstable.
Quinn is polling at 28% among black voters. The problem is that New York City politics does tend to be racially determined. Even in her subpar run of 2005, African-American candidate C Virginia Fields managed to win a plurality of the black vote. Right now, Bill Thompson, who was the Democratic candidate for mayor in 2009, is only at 14% among African Americans. I’d expect him to eat into Quinn’s percentage of black voters, or at least freeze her where she is.
4. Weiner v Quinn level-pegging in name recognition
The one piece of what might be seen as bad news for Weiner in the Marist poll is that with 85% name recognition, he’s still only polling at 15%. But I don’t see that as much of a problem: he wasn’t polling much higher before the sex scandal hit, but his numbers are in flux and have trended positive. Meanwhile, his frontrunner rival, Christine Quinn, has a similar level of name recognition, yet she’s slipped back to 26%.
The facts that he’s already in position to make the runoff as it stands, that his favorables are going in the right direction, and that the frontrunner is stalled, are all good signs. That doesn’t mean he will win. I am still partial to the possibility of Bill Thompson overhauling the others, given the math above.
At this point, all the candidates’ hopes are very much alive. But do I think Anthony Weiner can win this thing? Absolutely, he could.