By Edith Honan and Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Anthony Weiner's New York mayoral campaign took a beating on Thursday as he lost his lead in a new poll and admitted to sending lewd online messages to up to three women since he resigned from Congress over such behavior two years ago.
One of those women came forward on Thursday to say they had frequent sexually charged conversations both online and over the phone last year, although they never met in person.
Weiner said at a news conference he had online exchanges with six to 10 women over the years, adding, "I can't tell you absolutely what someone else is going to consider inappropriate or not."
Meanwhile, with less than two months left before the Democratic primary, a new poll showed Weiner trailing 9 percentage points behind City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
In the first survey since Weiner admitted the chats had continued past his resignation, Quinn led with 25 percent among Democrats, while Weiner followed with 16 percent, according to the NBC 4 New York/Wall Street Journal/Marist Poll.
Weiner, once a leading liberal voice in the U.S. Congress, resigned in 2011 after accidentally posting a revealing close-up photograph of him in his underpants on Twitter.
For a time, it appeared Weiner would be able to move past the scandal. Within weeks of launching his campaign in May, he had pulled ahead of Quinn, the race's early front-runner who, if elected, would be the city's first female and lesbian mayor.
That changed this week when a gossip website called The Dirty published a series of sexually explicit messages and images that an unidentified young woman said she received from Weiner, including pictures of his penis.
On Tuesday, Weiner admitted the messages were real and said he had continued interacting with women online as recently as last summer, more than a year after his resignation.
The 23-year-old woman who says she is behind the latest revelations, Sydney Leathers, appeared in interview excerpts the CBS television program "Inside Edition" broadcast on Thursday.
"I felt manipulated," she said. "Because obviously I felt like, you know, he's saying one thing to me, saying another thing to his wife, saying another thing on the campaign trail. I don't know who the real Anthony Weiner is, I guess."
She said they professed their love for each other before their relationship "fizzled out" after about six months. "He got a little bit controlling with me towards the end," she said, adding that Weiner would get jealous when other men wrote comments on her Facebook profile.
Now, nearly half of Democrats say Weiner's online activity will affect their vote, according to the Marist telephone survey conducted Wednesday. His popularity also hit an all-time low for this campaign season, with just 30 percent of Democrats saying they have a positive view of him and more than half reporting a negative view.
The support of Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin, an aide to former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is not providing much help either. Almost three in four Democrats say Abedin's support had no impact on their view of Weiner.
In the poll, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and former city comptroller Bill Thompson were tied for third place with 14 percent, while city Comptroller John Liu trailed with 7 percent.
New York Democrats were closely divided on the question of whether Weiner should stay in the race, with 43 percent saying he should bow out and 47 percent saying he should stay in. But when asked if Weiner deserved a second chance, fewer than half said he did, down from 59 percent who said that a month ago.
"Clearly, redemption overload has set in," Lee Miringoff, said director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion.
The poll showed a far rosier picture for another New York politician whose career was derailed by a sex scandal.
Spitzer, who resigned as New York governor in 2008 after admitting he paid prostitutes for sex, led the city comptroller's race with 49 percent of the Democratic vote. His main opponent, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, followed with 32 percent.
Just four in 10 New York Democrats said Weiner would do a good or excellent job as mayor, while nearly six in 10 said Spitzer would do a good or excellent job as comptroller, the poll found.
The telephone survey of 551 city Democrats had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.
(Reporting by Edith Honan and Jonathan Allen; Editing by Doina Chiacu)