Queens Republicans Express Cautious Optimism About Joe Lhota’s Chances

Joe Lhota with Councilman Eric Ulrich and ex-Congressman Bob Turner.

Joe Lhota speaking to Eric Ulrich and Bob Turner.

As they devoured buffalo chicken pizza and stuffed shells at a Queens fund-raiser last night, Republicans strained to remain optimistic about Joe Lhota’s dimming prospects in the mayor’s race.

Down 44 points in the latest poll against his Democratic opponent, Bill de Blasio, Mr. Lhota and his supporters projected an air of calm at a fund-raiser at Aldo’s II pizzeria in Ozone ParkĀ for local councilman Eric Ulrich. Mr. Ulrich and former GOP Congressman Bob Turner each argued, in turn, that Mr. Lhota could still carve a path to victory with two weeks to go until Election Day.

Mr. Turner, who won his own upset race over a Democrat in 2011, recalled how early polls also showed him far behind. Nevertheless, he admitted Mr. Lhota doesn’t have much time to turn things around before voters cast their ballots.

“Joe is just starting to get the traction that he needs–I hope we have enough time to close the gap,” Mr. Turner said. “I think his positions on police and charter schools are starting to resonate … I’m hoping some of these tough ads take root.”

Mr. Turner went on to argue that Mr. Lhota’s primary obstacle would be appealing to Democrats, which he said was no easy task when the days of high crime are far from the memories of many New Yorkers.

“We have to appeal to Democrats. Rudy was able to do it, Pataki was able to do it, Bloomberg was able to do it–he’s kind of a hybrid, but Joe has to do that and the emphasis is going to be on getting those crossover Democratic votes. Many people, it’s almost a full generation since New York City had bad days and people forget,” he said.

Mr. Ulrich, one of Mr. Lhota’s earliest backers, was more enthusiastic about Mr. Lhota’s fortunes.

“I think 14 days is an eternity in a campaign. You’ve seen other people come back in a shorter amount of time. You’ve seen other people free-fall in a much shorter amount of time,” he told Politicker. “I think that voters are still getting to know Joe Lhota and the more they get to know him, the more they’re gonna like him.”

And despite critical reviews from some of his fellow Republicans, Mr. Ulrich refused to critique Lhota’s campaign operations.

“I’m not privy to the inner workings of the campaign. I don’t know, perhaps, for instance what commercials they’re gonna roll out, what their fund-raising goals may be,” he said. “I know that people would like the campaign to be in a different position, obviously, but it’s not. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got.”

Mr. Ulrich added, “I still think there’s time to stage a big comeback here.”