Support for Eliot Spitzer's return to politics plunged in a poll released Thursday, putting the scandal-tarnished former governor in a tie with Democratic rival Scott Stringer less than two weeks before the primary for city comptroller.
Stringer, who's Manhattan's borough president, and Spitzer each got 46 percent of the vote in the Quinnipiac University survey of likely Democratic primary voters. Spitzer had previously had double-digit leads.
While more polls are expected in the coming days, the latest numbers are sure to put an already revved-up race on overdrive.
Since Spitzer unexpectedly leaped into the comptroller race in July, he and Stringer have traded barbs about each other's political records and personas. Stringer hasn't been shy about raising Spitzer's resignation amid a 2008 prostitution scandal.
"Public polling is catching up to what we are seeing on the subways and streets. New Yorkers are looking for a comptroller with a proven record of honesty, integrity and putting the middle class first," Stringer campaign manager Sascha Owen said in a statement Thursday.
The Spitzer camp said it was comfortable with where the race stood.
"We're confident that New Yorkers will choose to elect an independent voice to the comptroller's office," Spitzer spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement.
Spitzer built a reputation for taking on problematic Wall Street practices as attorney general before his stint as a dynamic if sometimes abrasive governor. He has been asking voters to forgive his admitted patronizing of prostitutes and look instead at his plans to make the comptroller's office more of a force for pushing to change corporate behavior.
Stringer, a longtime state assemblyman before becoming borough president, says he has the policy experience and interpersonal skills to be the city's chief financial officer.
He portrays Spitzer as arrogant. Spitzer paints him as ineffective. Their campaigns regularly joust over issues ranging from Spitzer's decision to self-finance his campaign to Stringer's support for changing term limits when Mayor Michael Bloomberg sought a third term.
The two campaigns clashed Thursday over a Stringer-campaign mailer claiming that anyone else who did what Spitzer did with prostitutes "would go to jail," featuring a photo of jail bars. The mailer didn't show that Stringer's campaign paid for it; city election law doesn't require that.
Spitzer's spokeswoman said "Stringer's not man enough to put his own name" to the attack.
"Nobody in this city needs a lesson in manhood from Eliot Spitzer," Stringer spokeswoman Audrey Gelman retorted. Stringer's campaign said it generally doesn't put "paid for by" messages on any mailers.
Spitzer enjoyed huge advantages in polls just two weeks ago: a 56-to-37 percent lead in a Quinnipiac poll, and 54 percent to 36 percent in an NBC 4 New York/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll, also of likely Democratic voters.
Stringer has since garnered several endorsements, including those of The New York Times, the Daily News and the New York Post.
Support from political figures and the media has been "helping him 'poll-vault' from 19 points down to dead even in just two weeks," said Quinnipiac polling director Maurice "Mickey" Carroll.
The new poll surveyed 602 likely Democratic primary voters between Aug. 22 and Monday. It has a sampling margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The primary is Sept. 10. The general election is Nov. 5.
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