Two days after their first debate, and less than three weeks before the mayoral election, things are looking rough for Comptroller Bill Thompson in his attempt to unseat Michael Bloomberg. He’s been outspent 16-1. He’s down 17 points in the latest poll . He didn’t lose Tuesday’s debate, but he didn’t win it, either; and at this point a tie’s a win for Bloomberg.
So does Thompson have any chance? Not much of one. But no one seems willing to count him out, either. Part of the reason why can be seen in an analysis of recent citywide elections.
In 2005, Bloomberg defeated Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer by 19 points, the largest Republican margin in City history. But in the days leading up to the election, polls consistently showed Bloomberg leading Ferrer by at least 30 points. The last Quinnipiac poll before the vote gave Bloomberg a 38-point lead.
Ferrer was able to pull as close as he did by emphasizing voter-turnout efforts on election day. He outperformed pre-election polls significantly. But he didn’t have the support of either the Working Families Party or the DC-37 city workers union, two of the city’s most powerful political players. The WFP sat the election out. DC-37 actually endorsed Bloomberg.
Thompson, on the other hand, has both of those. I Gmail-chatted today with the a communications director for a New York State Senator who has long been an observer of union politics. She declined to be named, not wanting to be seen as speaking for the Senator, but told me things could be different this time. “If you look at what de Blasio did this year, with the help of the Working Families Party and the unions,” referring to his big victory against Mark Green in the Public Advocate primary, “it’s instructive.”
That upset was “huge,” she said. And it came from ground organization, which can lead to unexpected results–especially in elections, like this one is expected to be, marked by low turnout. Green was such a favorite that many of his supporters didn’t bother to vote. De Blasio used organization to trump money and name recognition.
Thompson is probably hoping to do the same thing. The question is whether the coalition of organizations he’s put together will be strong enough to counteract Bloomberg’s obvious advantages. Two of the city’s more powerful unions, the United Federation of Teachers and the local SEIU 1199 healthcare workers–both of which endorsed de Blasio–have apparently decided to sit the mayoral election out, denying Thompson a pair of potentially powerful allies.
He might still be able to pull it off. There’s another debate, and his profile has risen since since he officially won the Democratic nomination. But the election wil probably hinge on the efforts of Thompson’s allies to drive friendly voters to the polls. It may be impossible to match Bloomberg’s money: “Because of the disparity that exists, it would have to be an all-out balls-to-the-wall effort to really counterbalance,” she told me before signing off. Her boss, a New York City Democrat, has not endorsed Thompson.