The race to be New York City’s next mayor is Democrat Bill de Blasio’s to lose. Indeed, the latest poll has him with 64% of likely voters in his corner. Republican Joseph Lhota is a distant second with 21% of the votes in a poll just a couple of days old. That’s progress of a sort, since Lhota trailed by 50 points in a early sampling of voter intentions. However, it’s hard to say how he can wipe out the gap between him and the current public advocate. The fact is he’s running as “de Blasio with tax cuts,” and that might actually be the best possible strategy — which just goes to show how Democratic the city is.
In a recent TV ad, Lhota says that both he and de Blasio favor a woman’s right to choose (so you can forget Lhota having any kind of future in Republican Party politics beyond New York). He points out that both want to decriminalize marijuana. And he states that both candidates support gay marriage. But he adds that the difference is that de Blasio wants to raise taxes and spend irresponsibly while he would cut taxes and eliminate waste in government spending.
While all of that might be true, the voters don’t seem to care much. And the Democrats are holding firm, if not out of party loyalty and ideological agreement, then out of fear of retribution. Historically, there have been Democrats who would back Republican candidates. There were Democrats for Giuliani and Democrats for Bloomberg organizations in elections past. This time around, there is no Democrats for Lhota.
While there are big-time Democratic backers who are handing Lhota money, he’s having a hell of a time getting any Dems to turn up to his events. The Daily News reported, “People are sincere when they say, ‘I’d love to help you … but I can’t get fired,’ or ‘I can’t risk going before the City Council and not being able to get what I need because the [future] mayor then says [I’m] not going to get it,'” the Republican insider said.
That is generating a sense of desperation in the Lhota camp. It came to the fore this weekend. De Blasio appeared on a new show on MSNBC hosted by Alec Baldwin (of “30 Rock” fame) in what was a pretty intelligent interview (Baldwin is better than a lot of professional journalists when it comes to asking hard questions). During their talk, Baldwin suggested that “stop and frisk” is a lazy strategy for halting crime, and de Blasio agreed. Immediately, the Lhota camp tried to spin it by claiming that de Blasio had called the NYPD lazy. The charge didn’t seem to stick as the Police Benevolent Association has yet to weigh in. And if you know the PBA, they would have been all over this if they had been truly upset.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to see Lhota succeeding by running a more traditional Republican campaign — coming out as pro-life, anti gay marriage, against pot smoking and so on. As weak as his support is as a moderate (even liberal?) Republican, New Yorkers would not back a Tea Party type with much enthusiasm.
Elections, contrary to what some GOP strategists believe, are won by seizing the center ground and getting marginally interested people to come to the polls. To that end, Lhota has created two additional lines on the ballot where his name will appear: “Taxes 2 High” and “Students First.” This may help get votes from independents and Democrats who would never think of casting a Republican ballot. However, Lhota is also the nominee of the Conservative Party, and appearing on their line may ensure he gets minimal crossover support.
That fact that Lhota is trailing de Blasio 3-1 is rather amazing when you consider that New York City Democrats outnumber New York City Republicans by about 6-1. Still, he’s behind 3-1 with three weeks to go. Get used to the idea of Mayor de Blasio.