If recent history is any guide, Eliot Spitzer’s chances of becoming governor of New York next year are greatly enhanced by the presence of the words “attorney general” on his résumé.
Since 2002, Democrats nationwide have won 18 open seats for governor or senator. Six of the winners had served either as state attorney general or United States attorney. Two others were prosecutors before entering politics. Not even mayors or congressmen were as well represented.
Prosecutors are in a natural position to project toughness, which helps Democratic candidates counter the soft-on-crime reputation that their party, rightly or not, bears.
To see that Spitzer could benefit from a similar dynamic next year, you need only consider the polling data. The Democrats’ perceived lack of toughness is one reason they typically fare significantly better among women than men.
But perceptions of Spitzer, the archetypal enforcer, differ starkly from those of other New York Democrats, even popular ones like Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles E. Schumer. All three politicians have approval ratings in the neighborhood of 60 percent among the state’s voters. But where Schumer and Clinton poll anywhere from 2 to 30 points better among women than among men, Spitzer routinely posts a 4- to 14-point gap in the other direction.