White House strategy questioned after narrow Bloomberg win
As with the end of any election cycle, the winners of last night’s off-year elections are basking in the glow of victory, and the losers are asking themselves “what-if” questions.
One of the biggest “what-if” questions this time around goes like this: What if President Barack Obama had endorsed and campaigned for Bill Thompson, the Democratic candidate for mayor of New York City?
It may prove to be a pertinent question, because the New York mayoral race turned out to be a much tighter one than most observers had expected. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was re-elected to a third term by a margin of five points, much less than the double-digit lead polls showed him as having earlier in the race.
The narrow race came as a shock to many observers who noted that Bloomberg — who reportedly came close to spending $100 million of his own money on the campaign — outspent Thompson by a ratio of 10 to one, but only beat him by a 51-46 margin.
As Politico reported Wednesday, the Democrats’ narrow loss represents “a profound embarrassment for a Democratic establishment — from the White House on down — that abandoned [Thompson] as a hopeless loser.”
Politico’s Ben Smith wrote:
Bloomberg’s meager five-point win left Democrats pondering what might have been if New York’s Democratic donors hadn’t turned their back on Thompson, if its politicians had worked for him, and most of all if President Barack Obama had offered anything more than the lamest words of praise.
“You have to wonder if maybe they made one fewer trip, if one of the trips they did to New Jersey, whether they went to New York instead, it might have helped,” the Associated Press quoted US House Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), who had himself dropped out of the mayoral race.
According to Smith, a prickly White House retorted: “Maybe Anthony Weiner should have manned-up and run against Michael Bloomberg.”
But the White House’s aloofness towards Thompson did not go unnoticed during the campaign. The New York Daily News reported in September that the White House planned to “sit out” the New York mayoral race because it didn’t want to be seen supporting a candidate who, in all likelihood, would lose.
The White House made it clear the President doesn’t want to get involved unless the controller can make the race “competitive,” the Democrat close to Thompson said.
That means bringing Bloomberg’s double-digit lead in public opinion polls down into the low single digits, where the endorsement might actually make a difference.
And the New York Times reported in October that there appeared to be a de facto alliance between the White House and Bloomberg, who has been an independent since 2007 but ran on the Republican ticket:
Since Mr. Obama’s election, Mr. Thompson, the city’s comptroller, has found his attempts to piggyback on Mr. Obama’s popularity drowned out by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has tethered himself to the president.
Mr. Bloomberg has met with the president four times since his inauguration, held public events with four of his cabinet members, and heaped praise on the new administration at every turn, no matter how mundane the occasion.
“Superb move,” Mr. Bloomberg declared in a press release after Mr. Obama created the job of chief performance officer at the White House.
On Tuesday, he accepted the endorsement of a close Obama ally, John D. Podesta, who ran Mr. Obama’s transition team last fall.
The New York mayoral race is by no means the only contest of the 2009 elections in which some observers are laying blame with the Obama White House for narrow losses. As the Associated Press reported, some gay-rights activists are pointing the finger at Obama’s “lack of engagement” as part of the reason that voters in Maine narrowly rejected a law that would have allowed same-sex marriage.
And when the Obama White House did step in to local and state politics, it often stepped into controversy. Obama took some flak last month from critics who accused him of party disloyalty after he reportedly urged New York Governor David Paterson to drop out of the 2010 gubernatorial race. The White House later denied it ever urged Paterson to drop out.
As with the Bloomberg-Thompson race, it seems that polling numbers were the motivating factor behind the White House’s desire for Paterson to step aside — if indeed the White House had made the request. Recent polls show that at least 70 percent of New Yorkers would like to see someone else in the Executive Mansion in Albany.