With New York Democrats apparently nominating their most left-of-center and anti-business candidate for mayor on Tuesday, Republicans were "cautiously optimistic" that they just might repeat their past history of winning the office with a plurality this fall.
With returns nearly compete, New York's Public Advocate Bill de Blasio appeared to have topped the crowded Democratic primary with just over 40 percent of the vote, the threshold to make him the Democratic nominee.
With nearly all precincts reporting early Wednesday, de Blasio had about 40.2 percent of the vote, with former City Comptroller Bill Thompson at 26 percent. If he remains at more than 40 percent, de Blasio will avoid an Oct. 1 run-off with Thompson, the 2009 Democratic nominee.
The final result is unlikely to be known until next week.
One could almost hear a collective sigh of relief from New York Democrats, as two past office-holders tarred by scandal lost comeback bids that would have been embarrassing to the party: Former Rep. Anthony Weiner, whose revealing tweets forced him to quit Congress in 2011, trailed badly in the mayoral primary, and former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, brought down by a prostitution scandal, was beaten in the primary for city comptroller.
Given the Democrats' near 6-to-1 voter registration advantage over Republicans and independents, de Blasio seems a shoo-in in the fall over Republican Joe Lhota, deputy mayor under popular former Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
With Giuliani's strong endorsement, Lhota overcame the better-financed campaign of grocery store magnate John Catsimatidis to win the GOP nod by a margin of 52 percent to 40 percent.
But the no-holds-barred leftism de Blasio displayed in the campaign — coupled with the candidacy of former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion on the Independence Party ticket — gives several experts a sense Lhota could win an upset.
As one wag put it, "To moderates and business leaders who fear de Blasio, Joe Lhota could become a star — their 'J.Lho'"
Backed by the powerful Service Employees International Union and frequently deploying class warfare in his rhetoric, de Blasio vowed tax hikes on incomes of more than $500,000 a year and on businesses, and an end to incentives for corporations enacted under Giuliani and incumbent Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
In addition, he called for federal monitoring of the New York Police Department, an end to its "stop-and-frisk" policy that is strongly backed by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, and universal pre-K classes in public schools, which will cost even more tax dollars as New York grapples with billions in unfunded obligations.
"Lhota might still defeat de Blasio should the public decide that the Democrat is too far left and that they prefer a more pragmatic approach," historian and best-selling author David Pietrusza told Newsmax. "New York voters have a history of doing that, whether it is [Democratic Mayor Ed] Koch or Giuliani or even Bloomberg."
Noting the presence of Carrion on the line of the Independence Party — which sprang from Ross Perot's independent presidential candidacy in 1992 — Pietrusza noted that "while it is hard to imagine Lhota garnering a majority, he might very well secure a plurality" along the lines of Republican mayors John Lindsay in 1965 and Fiorello LaGuardia in 1933."
Lindsay won on the Republican and Liberal Party lines in 1965 with about 43 percent of the vote, with Conservative Party nominee William F. Buckley, Jr. taking votes that might have gone to centrist Democrat Abe Beame.
As much of a legend as LaGuardia is today, he won his first term in 1933 with only 40.14 percent of the vote, with Democratic Mayor John O' Brien and former Democratic Acting Mayor Joseph McKee, running on the Recovery Party ticket, splitting the remainder.
Mark Kennedy, former Republican congressman from Minnesota and now director of the political management program at George Washington University, noted that de Blasio "in many ways ran as the anti-Bloomberg and his message resonated with many primary voters who saw the outgoing mayor as an ally of the rich and powerful."
Bloomberg, who makes no secret of his dislike of de Blasio, is widely expected to endorse Lhota. In addition, much of the business community in New York is likely to be in the Lhota camp in terms of fundraising.
All told, for a Republican to win City Hall in New York, a number of circumstances must first occur. Certainly, the nomination of de Blasio and the presence of a third-party contender are circumstances that will at least help Lhota.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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