Former MTA chairman Joe Lhota is generating a slew of headlines in the New York tabloids, but the Republican has a lot of ground to make up in a new poll of the New York City mayoral race. A Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday shows Lhota trailing three potential Democratic opponents by wide margins, while City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has a significant lead over the other Democratic hopefuls in a contested primary.
Lhota, who resigned his post as head of the city's transit authority late last year to explore a mayoral run, appears poised to officially announce his campaign in the coming days. The new poll shows him leading a crowded primary field of mostly-unknown GOP candidates. Twenty-three percent of registered Republicans support Lhota, a former deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani, while 9 percent back billionaire supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis. Three former Democrats -- publisher Tom Allon, former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión and Doe Fund founder George McDonald -- all finish with 5 percent or less in the hypothetical GOP primary matchup. A majority of the Republicans polled by Quinnipiac are undecided.
Lhota's success doesn't carry over to the general election. Matched up against Quinn, Lhota receives just 17 percent, compared to 62 percent for the Democrat. The city council speaker has a huge edge among Democrats (81 percent to 5 percent), and she leads Lhota by 20 points among independents. The other two Democrats tested in general election match-ups against Lhota, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and former Comptroller Bill Thompson, lead the Republican by similarly wide margins.
"New York City is a very blue city," Quinnipiac pollster Mickey Carroll said. "Any Republicans who want to follow in the footsteps of Mayors Rudolph Giuliani or Michael Bloomberg will need to win lots of Democratic and independent voters."
The hype surrounding Lhota's potential candidacy has centered on two main selling points: the praise Lhota and the MTA received for their swift work in getting the subways up and running in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and Lhota's connection to Giuliani and his administration. But Lhota's tenure at the MTA receives mixed reviews in the poll, with 36 percent of registered voters saying they approved of his handling of the job, and 46 percent saying they disapproved. In Lhota's final month as chairman, the MTA announced a series of fare hikes slated to take effect in March -- a move that could come back to haunt the Republican in attack ads later this year.
Giuliani, who has publicly touted Lhota for mayor, remains popular with his own party, with 90 percent of registered Republicans saying they have a favorable view of him. Independents (55% favorable/37% unfavorable) and Democrats (38% favorable/53% unfavorable) have mixed feelings on the former mayor.
On the Democratic side, Quinn has a commanding primary lead, winning the support of 35 percent of registered Democrats. De Blasio finishes second with 11 percent, followed closely by Thompson, the party's 2009 nominee, at 10 percent. Comptroller John Liu, whose campaign fundraising operation is under federal investigation, rounds out the field at 9 percent. If no candidate receives 40 percent of the vote in the primary, the top two finishers would face off in a runoff for the Democratic nomination.
The four Democratic candidates all posted strong totals this week when they submitted reports covering a six-month fundraising period that concluded last week. Thompson raised the most, bringing in more than $1 million, although he started the period with less money in the bank than his three counterparts. De Blasio brought in $725,000 during the same six months, while Liu raised $522,000, pushing his cash on hand total to around $2 million. Thompson and de Blasio's cash are not available at this point.
Quinn raised $473,000, the least of any of the four Democratic contenders, but the speaker had much less incentive than her rivals. With more than than $5 million in her campaign account, Quinn has already amassed the maximum amount of money a candidate can spend in a primary and runoff under the city's public matching campaign finance system.
The Republican candidates reported less robust fundraising tallies. Lhota, who is expected to tap into Giuliani's vast fundraising network, didn't file a report since he hasn't officially launched his campaign.
The Quinnipiac poll, conducted Jan. 8 through Jan. 14, surveyed 1,332 registered voters. The margin of error is plus-or-minus 2.7 percentage points. For the subsample of 879 Democrats, the margin of error is plus-or-minus 3.3 percentage points; for the smaller share of 176 Republicans, the margin of error is higher, at plus-or-minus 7.4 percentage points.