Four years ago the polls showed Mayor Michael Bloomberg on his way to a blowout win in the general election — only to squeak back into office by slightly more than 4 percent. So surprises are still possible in the Democratic primary, though Bill de Blasio appears to have a solid grip on first place. There’s still significant drama in tomorrow’s vote: whether De Blasio will face an October 1 runoff and, if so, who his opponent will be. De Blasio is trying to squeeze out 40 percent and win outright. His camp believes the chances turn on what happens at the bottom of the pack: If John Liu and Anthony Weiner each hit double digits, the math makes it highly likely we’ll have three more weeks of Democratic clashes.
But who will face off with De Blasio? Today’s Marist poll shows a dead heat for second place between Christine Quinn and Bill Thompson, at 20 percent; Quinnipiac gives Thompson a seven-point lead on Quinn. An insider with a rival campaign thinks Thompson’s got the edge: because the former comptroller should pick up late-deciding black voters, and because Quinn’s been trending down for weeks. The race for a spot in the runoff could come down to a culminating battle in a yearlong war for union support.
Labor unions are still a key part of the city’s Democratic primaries, providing the money, mailers, phone banks, and ground forces that the campaigns themselves can’t. One pivotal, underappreciated part of this year’s contest was Quinn’s inability, back in the spring, to unite the big unions behind her, when she was the front-runner. Had she been able to pull it off Quinn would probably still be the favorite rather than just trying to survive. Instead, SEIU 1199 went with De Blasio, the UFT backed Bill Thompson, and Quinn landed the Hotel Trades and 32BJ, which represents the city’s doormen and handymen (and women). The teachers’ union will probably spend the most money, overall, backing Thompson, but its field operations will need to prove themselves on Tuesday against Quinn’s troops, who are being overseen by veterans of Bloomberg’s get-out-the-vote machine. “The UFT’s ads and mail so far have only been okay,” a Democratic operative says. “The quality of Quinn’s union efforts has been higher — though their strategy targeting Latinos hasn’t seemed to work. And we’re talking, ultimately, about a difference of maybe 2 percent.” Yet in a tight race, with a turnout expected to be an anemic 600,000 or so, 2 percent matters a great deal.
Don’t expect to have the final results before you go bed tomorrow, though. As NY1’s Bob Hardt smartly points out, in 1997 and 2005 the runoff question wasn’t decided for days as votes were tallied — by the proud, meticulous union members working at the Board of Elections.