Tell Me Again, Who’s Running?

Here is a look at the Republican mayoral primary, now down to Joe Lhota, John Catsimatidis and George McDonald, thru the prism of the latest Quinnipiac poll.

The summary:  Even their own party doesn’t know them.

  • Joe Lhota got the best news, emerging as the leader.  That’s with a whopping 23%, however, and even that low number is with a 7.2% margin of error.  Only 42% of the polled Republicans selected any of the three candidates as their choice for mayor.
  • When asked for their opinion of each Republican candidate, the percentage of Republicans who “haven’t heard enough” to form an opinion about specific candidates was 54% with respect to Joe Lhota, 75% with respect to John Catsimatidis and 91% with respect to George McDonald.
  • George McDonald had a noticeable pickup to 11% support, moving past John Catsimatidis, and up from 2% in January.
  • Oddly, only 9% of Republicans say that they have “heard enough” about McDonald to form an opinion about him, (7% favorable, 2% unfavorable), so 4% of his 11% support comes from Republicans who either have an unfavorable opinion of him or say that they don’t know enough about him to form an opinion.  Not exactly a solid base, but it still pushed him past Catsimatidis’s 8%.
  • The poll is a disaster for Catsimatidis.  He slipped back, staying in single digits at a time when four other candidates or prospective candidates have dropped out, moved on or been criminally charged.  With a 7.2% margin of error in the poll, his 8% support could actually be as low as 1%.
  • Catsimatidis’s biggest asset is his wealth and ability to generously self-fund.  He used his money effectively in gaining county leader support, contributing generously to county organizations over the past several years.  Gaining county support has been both a direct plus for him, and had the fortunate consequence of blocking Adolfo Carrion.
  • Catsimatidis has not used his money effectively, however, in building primary voter support in this next stage of the race.  For Catsimatidis to have a chance, he needs to flood the airwaves, fill the mailboxes and push his name recognition.  That’s the real advantage of money, and his plausible path to victory, but he has to spend it to benefit.  Before a voter can support you, they have to know you exist.  Literally.
  • Catsimatidis’s real chance at winning comes not from battling for every vote with detailed policy discussions, talking about how he will reorganize City government or engaging with Joe Lhota in a proxy rehash of the Giuliani/Pataki tussles, but from flooding the airwaves, boosting his name recognition and pushing his poll numbers steadily upward.  Waiting is a likely prescription for failure, as the narrative formation is well-underway.  If the narrative solidifies with Catsimatidis floundering in single digits, summer spending will likely be too late, even if it’s not too little.