For Spitzer, a Scramble to Get on Ballot

NEW YORK (AP) -

Eliot Spitzer’s 11th-hour comeback campaign isn’t just a race to the finish. It’s a sprint to the start.

The first poll taken since the ex-governor leaped into the New York City comptroller’s race Monday shows him gaining a quick advantage over fellow Democrat Scott Stringer. But he has only until midnight Thursday to collect 3,750 valid petition signatures to get on the Democratic primary ballot for September.

The Wall Street Journal-NBC 4 New York-Marist poll shows registered Democrats favoring Spitzer over Stringer by 42 percent to 33 percent.

Spitzer says he’s gratified by the numbers but won’t base his approach on polls.

“It’s going to be a tough burden,” he said, clipboard and petition in hand, at his first campaign appearance Monday, though he has since said he’s comfortable his campaign will meet the requirement.

“That’s the real challenge, the four days,” said Jerry Skurnik, a longtime New York Democratic consultant. “It could be done, if they spend enough money and they’re really organized.”

Spitzer’s self-financed campaign posted an online ad Monday offering canvassers $12 an hour to gather signatures and set a petition-signing party for Wednesday evening. The process can be painstaking. In Spitzer’s case, signers need to be registered Democrats who live in the city and haven’t signed another comptroller hopeful’s petition. Signers must supply their names and addresses and date the forms, and signature-gatherers also have to fill out certain information.

City candidates were allowed to start petitioning in early June, and many did. Campaigns generally gather two to three times as many signatures as needed, in case some are challenged as having an incomplete address, a missing date, a signer who’s not a registered Democrat, or other flaws.

Some candidates submit many extra signatures as a show of strength. Leading Spitzer rival Scott Stringer, a Democrat and currently the Manhattan borough president, has garnered upwards of 100,000 signatures, his campaign said.

Spitzer has said he’s aiming for 7,500 signatures. He picked up several himself Monday as he made his way through a Manhattan park, encircled by reporters.

Spitzer said he’d use his experience to create a more muscular comptroller’s office. As attorney general before his time as governor, he became known for going after fraud on Wall Street. Many business leaders said they are considering independent super PACs to derail Spitzer’s return.