Can Bloomberg Be Beaten?
Official Washington may be winding down from the 2008 campaign and subsequent transition, but in New York City another big race is just getting started.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) is running for a third term -- the city council having suspended the two-term limit law late last year -- with a number of factors working in his favor: stratospheric job approval ratings, a slew of talented Democratic strategists working for his campaign and, most importantly, an unlimited personal fortune to bankroll his campaign.
All of which begs the question: Can Bloomberg be beaten?
The answer? Possibly. But, such a scenario has to be considered a long shot at the moment.
Let's examine the facts.
A new Quinnipiac poll released earlier this week showed Bloomberg with comfortable leads over both of his potential rivals -- Democrats Bill Thompson, the New York City Comptroller, and Rep. Anthony Weiner.
Bloomberg led Thompson 50 percent to 34 percent and Weiner by a nearly identical 50 percent to 35 percent. Two-thirds of those tested had a favorable opinion of Bloomberg while just 28 percent had an unfavorable opinion. Roughly half (54 percent) of all New York City voters didn't know enough about Weiner to offer an opinion of him while 69 percent didn't know enough about Thompson to offer an opinion.
"Although our numbers are strong, the mayor started his last races behind and that's how we intend to approach this race as well," said Howard Wolfson, communications director for Bloomberg's reelection bid.
Bloomberg also has demonstrated an ability to court and co-opt Democratic voters -- as he did in his first two campaigns when he ran as a Republican.
Bloomberg seems well on his way to repeating that feat again in November as he has brought on Wolfson, communications director for then Sen. Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential bid, and Hank Sheinkopf, a major player in New York Democratic politics, as a consultant to his bid. (Sheinkopf was seen as close to Thompson and his decision to go with Bloomberg has been received as something of a coup in the Big Apple.)
Democratic voters, too, seem less than unified against Bloomberg, according to the Quinnipiac poll. Bloomberg took 44 percent to Weiner's 42 percent in a head to head matchup while Thompson and Bloomberg each took 42 percent of Democrats in the poll.
And then there is the money. Bloomberg, the founder of a massive media empire, was rated as the 8th richest man in the United States by Forbes magazine in 2008 -- with an estimated net worth of $20 billion.
The mayor has also shown a willingness to spend freely from his own fortune during his first two campaigns -- he dropped $74 million in 2001 and $78 million in 2005 -- and there is no evidence he won't keep up that pace this November.
Couple Bloomberg's wealth with New York City's stringent campaign finance laws -- the City provides significant matching funds but caps contributions -- and either Thompson or Weiner would be fighting with one hand tied behind his back.
Given all of that, how could Bloomberg be toppled?
There is a path -- albeit it a narrow one currently.
Allies of Thompson and Weiner argue that the fact Bloomberg can't break 50 percent against either candidate despite being FAR better known shows there is clearly a large group of people open to persuasion being persuaded to vote against Bloomberg if a serious campaign is prosecuted against him.
They also believe that Bloomberg's massive personal wealth can be used against him and turned from an advantage to a burden. Put simply: In times of such economic hardship having such a rich man be the mayor of New York City will not sit well with voters, particularly as the financial outlook for the city continues to dim over the coming months.
John Collins, a spokesman for Weiner, sounded this populist note when asked about the mayoral contest. "Anthony Weiner is fighting in DC for middle class New Yorkers and a sound recovery plan, not politics," said Collins. "There will be plenty of time for campaigning."
In politics (as the last two years have proven), anything is possible and circumstances can change very quickly. But, beating Bloomberg would require a series of breaks for the Democratic candidates -- breaks they may well get but probably can't rely on. Still, this is a race -- by virtue of Bloomberg's high profile and the prominence of New York City -- that will draw significant national attention.
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