NEW YORK CITY — After months of holding the top spot in the crowded field of Democratic mayoral hopefuls, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has tumbled to third place in the public polls in recent weeks — leaving some campaign supporters panicking.
In back-to-back Quinnipiac polls in the past two weeks, Quinn slid from 37 percent to 18 percent of those surveyed, while Bill de Blasio soared to the point where New Yorkers were openly wondering if he could make it to the general election without a runoff.
But the most senior and experienced members of Quinn's campaign team say they're dealing with her 11th-hour plummet with the following philosophy: keep calm and carry on.
“Everybody expected it to be a three-way race,” said a high-ranking member of team Quinn, who blamed the mounting concerns on people with “limited experience” in big races.
“There's no way that someone's going to have 37 percent, and wind up with $1 million of negative ads and 6 months of a 4-way pile on, and head into the primary still at 37 percent,” the insider said. “They’re certainly not the kind of thing that's frightened anyone into the notion that we're in trouble.”
The person also dismissed the “fluctuating” poll results “taken in the dog days of summer.”
But the campaign took immediate action a day after Quinn’s personal worst showing in a public poll Tuesday — launching its first truly negative attack ad going after frontrunner Bill de Blasio.
The campaign also said it’s been preparing for just this sort of worst-case scenario by developing, since April, a field operation “necessary to identify voters and deliver them,” on primary day.
“There is no one running for mayor that has the breadth and scope and detailed get-out-the-vote plan that we do,” the insider said.
The campaign said that, along with their labor allies, they’ve been able to knock on 1.3 million individual doors, and have an average of 1,000 volunteers out every day to help them “track our voters, stay in touch with our voters, and know who are voters are."
The campaign is counting on their voter turnout operation to put Quinn in the run-off against de Blasio, where it plans to let loose everything it has.
“Folks are just starting to key in to this race,” the insider said. “Bill de Blasio's inconsistencies and willingness to talk out of both sides of his mouth…is getting highlighted, and we're willing to talk about it in a much more in-your-face way.”
Still, Quinn stalwarts within labor and activist organizations, elected officials who endorsed her, and even some inside the campaign admit they're sweating it out.
"They're freaking out,” one supporter noted. Another insider described their conversation about the campaign's fortunes as feeling post-mortem.
The strain is even evident with Quinn, whose tone and demeanor have changed in the wake of the slipping poll numbers.
Ahead of the West Indian Day Parade in Brooklyn on Monday, Quinn was asked how she and her campaign were handling her slide in the polls. Quinn smiled as she responded, appearing to almost enjoy the question.
“I became the speaker of the City Council—the first women, the first openly gay speaker—as an underdog,” she said. “I’m a fighter. I’m going to fight over the next eight days to get into the runoff and I’m going to win that runoff.”
But Quinn wasn’t smiling nearly as much during Tuesday’s televised Democratic mayoral debate, following the second poll showing her in third place, behind both de Blasio and former Comptroller Bill Thompson.
But despite all of the preparation and shift in tactics, even the most confident Quinn campaigners were unable to keep from hedging.
“Experienced hands…can adapt to changes in circumstances,” the high-ranking member of the campaign team said. “Whether that can turn the tide remains to be seen.”