Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio is joined by family...

Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio is joined by family and supporters as he rides a float along Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. during the 44th Annual African America Day Parade in Manhattan. (Sept. 15, 2013) Credit: Charles Eckert

The strong likelihood that Bill de Blasio will clinch the Democratic nomination makes him an early favorite for New York City mayor.

Pending final primary counts, and given his party's 6-1 city enrollment edge, the election looks like de Blasio's to lose.

Yet lose it he might, if past is prologue. Two Republican candidates have won the past five mayoral races in the deep-blue city.

To sustain the GOP winning streak, new nominee Joe Lhota must emulate both Rudy Giuliani, his political mentor, and Michael Bloomberg, who succeeded Giuliani, by picking off significant numbers of Democratic and unaffiliated voters.

That's quite a trick for a first-time GOP candidate running without either Giuliani's fame as a law man or Bloomberg's personal billions.

One seasoned Democratic strategist, who declined to be identified, said: "Lhota has a steep upward climb. I'm not saying it's impossible for him. But it's tough to take Lhota seriously until he shows he can tap into the minority vote."

In 2009, exit pollsters reported 46 percent of voters identified themselves as white, 44 percent black or Hispanic, and 7 percent Asian -- the city's first "minority-majority" election, reflecting a long-term demographic trend.

"On the other hand, de Blasio so far has crafted his candidacy purely for the primary -- as if the general election is not a problem," the Democratic strategist added. "Does he get caught up on that? The question for de Blasio may be less one of ideology than of credibility. Nobody believes the state leaders will pass his proposed tax on the wealthy," the strategist said.

During his primary, Lhota, 58, touted his management experience -- chairman of the MTA during superstorm Sandy, heading Madison Square Garden, helping run Cablevision (which owns Newsday), and serving as Giuliani's chief deputy during and after 9/11. He was an investment banker at First Boston and Paine Webber, and helped in campaigns for Giuliani and other Republicans.

De Blasio, 52, rose in his primary using the tactics and resources of his time as a progressive-movement organizer. His resume includes citywide election as public advocate, an ombudsman's position, in 2009; regional U.S. housing director in the 1990s, and Hillary Clinton's 2000 statewide Senate campaign manager.

Both men have begun to tilt their messages toward the general election Nov. 5.

Lhota has already suggested Bloomberg failed to sufficiently communicate his goals to the public. And Lhota talks about improving the public schools -- noting he's for universal pre-K programs like Blasio, but without de Blasio's tax hike to fund it.

The promise of jobs and a strong quality-of-life appeal to voters "regardless of party affiliation," said Lhota spokeswoman Jessica Proud.

De Blasio, while a critic of Bloomberg's police-search practices, said pointedly in his victory speech on the eve of Sept. 11: "The job of those of us in positions of authority is to keep our city safe, to be constantly vigilant, to use every tool at our disposal to protect our people."

Former Public Advocate Mark Green, the Democrat who barely lost to Bloomberg in 2001 (and to de Blasio for public advocate in 2009), sees the Republicans' two-decade run at City Hall as rooted in victories by "two men in . . . very unique circumstances."

Perhaps an independent expenditure of $25 million or more could put Lhota in contention, Green and other skeptics of the Republican's chances suggest.

But party unity can prove elusive. One GOP operative who worked for a Lhota rival and declined to be identified said Lhota could benefit from any continued friction between the de Blasio camp and ex-comptroller Bill Thompson, the second-place finisher who'd be in a runoff if the final count of de Blasio's vote puts him at below 40 percent.

With Bloomberg neutral, the operative said, "Lhota is in the best place he could have hoped to be coming out of the primary."

Whether candidates Adolfo Carrion on the Independence line or Jack Hidary on the ad hoc "Jobs and Education" line have any impact remains hazy.

Lhota's candidacy was something of a January surprise, Anthony Weiner's a May surprise, and Eliot Spitzer's, a July surprise. De Blasio's rise became an August surprise. So don't be surprised if the next seven weeks bring more surprises.


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