Commentary Magazine


Weiner’s Strategy Already Paying Dividends

The latest poll of the New York mayoral race is awakening the public to what many seem to find a horrifying prospect: Anthony Weiner can win. Weiner has, the report alerts us, gone “in just a few weeks from disgraced has-been to mayoral front-runner.” In truth, this may trade underestimating the former congressman’s chances for overestimating them in one breath. There were always certain elements of the race that promised to make it competitive, even if Weiner was an underdog.

But aside from Weiner’s campaign war chest, they cut both ways. For example, he had full name recognition early in the race. But that name recognition also meant there wasn’t much room for him to get a fresh start in the minds of voters. He also hails from the boroughs, having represented Queens and Brooklyn, and thus he has an advantage over Manhattan’s Christine Quinn with regard to New York’s famously important identity politics. At the same time, since the sex scandal that drove him from office painted him as a bit of a cad, it’s not clear voters actually want to identify themselves with Weiner (and perhaps it’s even more troubling if they do).

All is not lost for Quinn–far from it. Indeed, while the NBC report calls Weiner the frontrunner, he would actually still lose the Democratic primary under conditions that mimicked the poll results. NBC explains:

Weiner, who entered the race two years after resigning his congressional seat amid a sexting scandal, now leads City Council Speaker Christine Quinn 25 percent to 20 percent among registered Democrats, the poll by Marist found. That’s a flip-flop from the last survey in May, when Quinn, the longtime front-runner, led Weiner 24 percent to 19 percent.

And a runoff in the Democratic contest seems increasingly likely — no candidate appears close to capturing the 40 percent needed on Sept. 10, which would force a second contest between the top two finishers.

The poll shows that, in those scenarios, Weiner does not lead, but has gained a great deal of ground since the previous survey. In a runoff between Quinn and Weiner, she beats him 44 percent to 42 percent, with 14 percent undecided. That’s a change from last month’s poll that found 48 percent for Quinn, 33 percent for Weiner and 18 percent undecided.

According to the poll, former comptroller and previous Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Thompson would also edge Weiner in a run-off round. The important part of the story, for Weiner, is the direction of the numbers. Not only are his current poll numbers better than they were, but the number of New York voters who said they wouldn’t consider voting for him has dropped from 52 percent to 45 percent. That means his name recognition isn’t stopping him from changing minds and the sexting scandal isn’t a dealbreaker for most voters.

However, as I wrote yesterday, the scandal may not be completely in the past since Weiner has admitted there are still incriminating photographs of him that could surface. Voters may be willing to forgive Weiner for past indiscretions, but they will not look kindly on the possibility that those headlines will return and dominate the news cycle not only for the fall election but also throughout a theoretical first mayoral term. He’s far from in the clear.

So what will Weiner do to shore up his lead? He received a bit of good luck this week when Quinn, who is currently speaker of the City Council, approved a law that would hamper the New York Police Department’s ability to identify suspects. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and the NYPD’s tactics have been the subject of some astoundingly ignorant reporting and malicious misinformation, which may obscure their sky-high approval ratings. One such poll, released in January, found Kelly’s approval to be well above water across ethnic and racial lines; black voters gave him his worst showing at 63 percent approval. (His overall approval/disapproval was 75/18.)

As I’ve explained in the past, New Yorkers may be liberal by and large, but even liberals like safe neighborhoods. Before Anthony Weiner declared his candidacy, Quinn may have been able to claim to be the rightward edge of the Democratic field of candidates with regard to the NYPD, but she is still too far left on the issue for many voters. In March, for example, she threw her support behind the establishment of an inspector general for the NYPD.

Weiner didn’t. And when he spoke this month at a gathering hosted by Al Sharpton, Weiner only said the city’s successful stop and frisk policy should not be used “as a racial tool.” He didn’t say that it was being used that way, and would get no more specific about his own police policy except to say that he, too, wouldn’t be “using stop-and-frisk as a racial tool” if elected mayor.

Weiner shouldn’t yet be considered the true frontrunner. But Quinn is running her campaign as if Weiner is not in the race, and the latest poll is an early verdict on that strategy.

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