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Weiner Won’t Win

July 24, 2013

When former Congressman Anthony Weiner opened his campaign for mayor of New York, he let us know that additional instances of his texting indiscretions might surface. What he didn’t tell us was how recently those additional indiscretions had occurred.

Weiner resigned his Congressional seat in June 2011, tearfully apologizing to voters and saying that he needed to devote his time to repairing his relationship with his wife. He didn’t let on – to us or, presumably, to her – that he wasn’t finished damaging that relationship. In July 2012, Weiner and wife did a People magazine puff piece that was transparently intended to begin Weiner’s political rehabilitation. And of course this year he entered the 2013 race for mayor.

This week it was revealed that Weiner continued his extramarital on-line activities for “more than a year” after his June 2011 resignation. Given magazine publishing lead times, this almost certainly means that his sexting continued after he sat posing for People with wife and infant, posing for the people as a newly wonderful husband and father.

The noise from the commentariat since the story broke has had a couple of prominent themes. One of them is the obligatory disclaimer, “I don’t care about his sex life.” I don’t completely agree with this, for a number of reasons. One reason is that male politicians who cheat on their wives often seem to be displaying both narcissism and disrespect for their wives, if not for women generally, that do seem to be matters of public concern.

You can protest, it’s not the sex part, it’s the cheating part – the part that involves lying, especially to one’s own spouse. But politicians’ extramarital sex always involves cheating, and therefore lying. It’s not so clear that the sex part and the cheating part are really separable. After all, can you imagine a politician who would admit to an extramarital affair but offer the spouse’s consent as a defense?  That would be even weirder than a grown man texting his junk to women he’s never met.

Another prominent theme in the sturm und drang has been speculation that Weiner may win the election despite his digital artistry. This theme comes with prolific references to the most recent polling in the mayor’s race, which showed Weiner running competitively. No one seems to notice that all of that polling was done before the revelations we’re hyperventilating about.

Two major Democratic primary polls have been released in July.  The first, by Quinnipiac, showed Weiner leading at 25 percent, three points ahead of Christine Quinn. Siena’s July poll showed Weiner in second place, nine points behind Quinn.

But Weiner will not be our next mayor. A candidate has to take at least 40 percent of the primary vote to avoid a runoff, and he is nowhere close to 40 percent. Weiner’s negatives are very high – the highest of any candidate in the race. In the Quinnipiac poll, 36 percent of all voters (40 percent of women) expressed an unfavorable view of Weiner. Thirty-three percent of voters said he shouldn’t even run – a question the pollsters don’t bother to ask with the other candidates. Even if Weiner makes it into a runoff – most likely against Quinn – his ability to expand his voter base will likely be much less than hers. Stated differently, Weiner’s negatives give him a lower polling ceiling than the other candidates.

Most important, polling after the most recent disclosures will not be the same as polling before. Weiner’s support will surely drop, even if just a few percentage points, and his negatives will surely rise. New Yorkers are not a sanctimonious or self-righteous people, but there are limits. There is certainly some sliver of the New York electorate that was willing to forgive the first round of junk-texting disclosures, perhaps moved by Weiner’s apology, loyal to his liberalism, or whatever, who will feel betrayed or duped by this second round of disclosures.

With four candidates polling in the double digits, even a relatively small decrease in Weiner’s support will significantly decrease his chances of finishing first or second in the primary and getting into the runoff. And any increase in his negatives will significantly decrease his chances of winning the runoff if he does get into it.

Both the New York Times and Daily News editorialized today against Weiner’s candidacy. As far as I know, no prominent person or paper has taken the other side. He won’t quit the race, since he is a narcissist and since his campaign is well funded with leftovers from pre-resignation fundraising. But he won’t win the race either.

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