NEW YORK (Reuters) - Public advocate Bill de Blasio has taken a strong lead among Democrats in the race to be New York City's next mayor, just two weeks before the September 10 Democratic primary, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday.
De Blasio has the backing of 36 percent of likely voters - just shy of the 40 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff - the poll found. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has dominated the race for much of the campaign, is next with 21 percent, while former City Comptroller William Thompson, who lost to Mayor Michael Bloomberg four years ago, is a close third with 20 percent.
Former Congressman Anthony Weiner, the one-time front-runner whose candidacy was undone by fresh revelations about his highly questionable relationships with women he met online, followed with 8 percent of likely Democratic primary voters, while City Comptroller John Liu had 6 percent, the poll showed.
"Talk about breaking out of the pack! Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, in fourth place just five weeks ago, is edging up on the magic 40 percent needed to avoid a Democratic primary runoff," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "Let's see how he does in the home stretch."
An August 13 Quinnipiac poll had de Blasio at 30 percent and Quinn at 24 percent among Democratic voters.
If de Blasio ends up facing off with another Democrat in a run-off election, the poll suggested he would do very well. In a head-to-head match with Quinn, de Blasio would win 59 percent to 30 percent, while he would beat Thompson 52 percent to 36 percent.
Whoever gets the Democratic nomination would be considered a heavy favorite against any Republican in the November 5 election to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose third and final term expires on January 1.
The poll of 602 likely Democratic primary voters was conducted from August 22 to August 27 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
In the meantime, Quinn has won the endorsement of all three of the city's major newspapers. The New York Times on August 24 said Quinn would "carry on at least as well as (Bloomberg) did."
As City Council speaker, Quinn has been closely allied with Bloomberg - something that has been a major strength, allowing her to claim credit for the city's prosperity, but also perhaps her biggest weakness. The fact that Quinn backed a change in the city's term limits law to allow Bloomberg to seek a third term in 2009 has been used against her throughout the campaign.
De Blasio has cast himself as the progressive choice for mayor, placing economic inequality at the center of his campaign and vowing to raise taxes on the city's top earners to pay for universal pre-kindergarten. He has also featured his bi-racial family in campaign advertisements.
"The political cliché, that the most liberal candidate wins the Democratic primary in New York, seems to be alive and well," Carroll said. "New ideas, like his tax-the-rich proposal, win big for de Blasio."
(Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Gunna Dickson)