NEW YORK CITY — He's got a long way to go.
Former MTA Chair Joe Lhota may be the leading Republican candidate in the race for mayor, but he's miles behind his Democratic challengers, a new poll shows.
Lhota, who is expected to formally announce he is running this week, would trounce his largely-unknown GOP challengers with 23 percent of the vote in a primary, according to a new Quinnipiac poll out Wednesday. That's more than the other expected candidates combined.
But Lhota would face a much tougher fight against a Democrat were the election held today, according to the poll, losing by a margin of at least a 3-1 against any of the top three candidates: 62-17 to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, 55 – 19 to Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and 57 – 17 to former City Comptroller Bill Thompson.
Back in May, 2001, the pollsters noted, then-Republican Michael Bloomberg trailed his Democratic contenders by margins of 52–24 percent or more.
“The top three Democrats all thump Lhota," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in a statement releasing the findings.
"Any Republican who wants to follow in the footsteps of Mayors Rudolph Giuliani or Michael Bloomberg will need to win lots of Democratic and independent voters," he said.
Quinn also maintains a strong advantage over her Democratic rivals, with a whopping 35 percent of the vote if the Democratic primary were held today. That's versus 11 percent for de Blasio, 10 percent for Thompson, and 9 percent for current City Comptroller John Liu, the poll found.
And while Lhota appears to be banking on riding the MTA's wave of goodwill in the wake of Superstorm Sandy it turns out that could be difficult.
The poll found voters disapproved of Lhota's job performance at the MTA by a margin of 46-36, according to the poll. And the vast majority — 69 percent — said they didn't know enough about him to decide whether they liked him or not.
Disapproval was especially high among minority voters and on Staten Island — where 58 percent of those polled said they didn’t like the job he’d done at the helm of transit authority, which recently spiked bridge tolls.
Lhota's challengers are expected to include supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis, who polled at 9 percent, Manhattan Media CEO Tom Allon, at 5 percent, former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr., who polled at 3 percent and Doe Fund founder George McDonald, who came in last with 2 percent.
The poll of 1,332 voters, from Jan. 8 -14, has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points. The margins were higher for questions limited to Republican and Democratic party members.