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NEW YORK – Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner share something beyond their lurid pasts: They both have drawn consistent support in their quest for political redemption from African-American voters.
Spitzer, the former governor running for city comptroller, leads opinion polls over his Democratic primary rival Scott Stringer only because of black voter support. Spitzer leads among likely Democratic voters 49% to 45% in the most recent poll released July 25 from Quinnipiac Polling Institute. That's because black voters favor him 63% to 33%. Among white voters, Spitzer — who left the governor's office in 2008 when it was revealed he solicited prostitutes — trails Stringer by more than 20 points.
In the mayor's race, Weiner's support has tanked among white voters since he revealed that he continued to send salacious text messages to women for a year after he left Congress in 2011. Just 7% of white Democratic likely voters back him, according to a July 29 Quinnipiac poll, down from 23% in a poll taken five days previous. But nearly a quarter of black voters still support Weiner: 24%, down from 31% in the previous poll.
"There's a notable sympathy for the tabloid twins,'' says Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute. The Democratic primary is set for Sept. 10.
It is a truism in politics that African-American voters are more likely to forgive public figures for bad behavior: President Bill Clinton, for instance, remained popular with black voters throughout his impeachment after his affair with a White House intern.
Black voters are inclined to support underdogs and to discount media characterizations of candidates, says Al Sharpton, one of the city's most prominent African-American leaders. His National Action Network has hosted all the mayoral candidates.
"We are less likely to be influenced by media attacks because most of our leaders and people who have stood for us have been subjected to media attacks,'' Sharpton says. The more critical the coverage of Weiner – the New York Post, for instance, has had a string of double-entendre front-page headlines –– the greater the possibility of a backlash of support, he says. "You almost can have the opposite response in the black community, because those we have respected the most have been attacked the most.''
Minority voters may have different expectations than white voters about a candidate, says Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, where polls also show Spitzer and Weiner with strong black support. In a Marist poll last month, 53% of African Americans and 43% of Hispanics say all politicians have "something to hide" — compared with 30% of white voters. "This underlying attitude is shaping how different groups in the city are reacting to these scandals,'' Miringoff says.
Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, has a slew of endorsements from nearly two dozen black leaders, including Rep. Charles Rangel, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and David Paterson, who was Spitzer's 2006 running mate and succeeded him as governor. On Monday, Stringer won the endorsement of the black-owned Amsterdam News, which called him "genuine, thoughtful and humble."
Spitzer's campaign says it is the former governor's status as an outsider that is drawing African-American support. "There's a general sense that he stood up to powerful interests for people who didn't have a voice,'' spokesman Hari Sevugan says. "There is a sense that he is willing to take on powerful interests and big problems, to provide a voice for those who don't have an opportunity to fight for themselves.''
Fishing where the fish are, Spitzer's recent schedule has him appearing where he is likely to reach black voters, including churches, a gospel concert and the Brooklyn restaurant Junior's.
Weiner's strength among black voters comes despite the fact that another candidate, Bill Thompson, the former comptroller also running for mayor, is African American. The two men draw roughly equal amounts of support from black voters, polls show.