(The Root) — By any measure, Anthony Weiner has had a disastrous few weeks as a candidate. There was the emergence of a new round of allegations regarding his sexting habits, followed by an awkward admission at an awkward press conference with his wife, followed by a seemingly endless media tour by Sidney Leathers, his former sexting buddy. Leathers recently announced that she is supporting Weiner’s opponent, Christine Quinn, the only female candidate in New York City’s race for mayor. The reaction from most Americans at this point is probably, “Who isn’t supporting someone else besides Weiner for mayor at this point?”
Heck, most of us are surprised that his wife, Huma Abedin, is still supporting him. But she’s far from the only one. Polling data released shortly after Weiner’s latest scandal became public found that black voters are more supportive of Weiner than the general population. While his support among white voters fell 16 percent in the days of the media fallout from his most recent allegations, his support among black voters declined by just 7 percent, with a quarter still supporting him.
For Eliot Spitzer, black-voter support is even more pronounced. While he trailed his rival, Scott Stringer, by more than 20 points among white voters two weeks ago, he led Stringer among black voters by 30 points. So why is it that black voters appear willing to give candidates a second — or, in Weiner’s case, a third — chance that other voting groups are not?
Asked about Weiner’s and Spitzer’s advantage with black voters, Scott Levenson, president of the New York-based political consulting firm the Advance Group, said, “The truth of the matter is that there’s far more of a name recognition issue than an African-American issue.” Levenson went on to explain that in competitive citywide races, name recognition is key, and Weiner and Spitzer have two of the most recognizable names in politics — even if not everyone recognizes their names for positive reasons.
In the case of Weiner in particular, that doesn’t necessarily matter quite as much. “Quinn and Weiner have the most negatives by far,” Levenson said, referring to Quinn, the front-runner of the New York City mayor’s race. Like Weiner, Quinn has high name recognition, but also not for entirely positive reasons. “Sixty-seven percent of Quinn’s voters are willing to look at another candidate,” he said. Some voters, when faced with a known name they don’t care for — Quinn — opted for the other name they know, and for some black voters that name is the scandal-scarred Weiner.
Levenson also speculated that age is probably playing a larger role than race in some of the polling favoring Weiner. “Someone who is 65 doesn’t ‘get’ sexting. Someone who is 25 knows someone who’s sent pictures of themselves.”
But Basil Smikle, a New York-based political consultant who is black, posited another theory. “African-American social and political traditions are heavily rooted in the church, where the concepts of redemption and empathy are often discussed,” he said in an email. “Personal scandals alienated Eliot and Anthony among the political class and many voters. Their campaigns exhibit renewed passion and vigor to regain ground and simultaneously reflect themes of disenfranchisement, contrition and marginalization that, for different reasons, resonate with many black voters.”
Clearly Weiner’s campaign must be aware of this. He generated extensive media attention on Thursday for his efforts to knock on the doors of voters in Harlem.
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.