Former City Councilman James F. Kenney holds a commanding lead in Philadelphia's Democratic mayoral primary, according to an independent poll conducted within the last week.
With less than a week until Tuesday's primary, a survey of 600 likely voters showed Kenney with 42 percent support, far ahead of both former District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham and State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, each of whom was favored by 15 percent of those polled.
Kenney leads in all parts of the city, overwhelmingly among whites and with healthy support among African Americans, according to the survey, commissioned by The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, Philly.com, and NBC10.
Undecided voters made up 14 percent of those surveyed, while the remainder of the field - former Judge Nelson A. Diaz, former Philadelphia Gas Works executive Doug Oliver, and former State Sen. T. Milton Street Sr. - drew single-digit support.
The poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, was conducted from Saturday through Monday via telephone interviews by National Research Inc., based in Holmdel, N.J. The firm typically polls for Republican candidates. It was chosen for the survey because of its track record and because it has no ties to any of the Democratic candidates.
Beyond the mayor's race, the poll found that Philadelphians are split on whether the city is heading in the right direction, hold a favorable opinion of Mayor Nutter, and are overwhelmingly positive about Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, whom Williams pledged to dismiss.
Adam Geller, founder of National Research, said Williams' position on Ramsey appeared to have backfired. "We looked at Ramsey's popularity and it is translating to Kenney," the pollster said. "The lesson here is, you don't pick on a popular guy."
The poll's rankings of mayoral candidates showed Kenney with greater support than in two surveys conducted last month on behalf of the candidate himself. Those polls had the former councilman in the low-30-percent range, with Williams second in the mid-20s.
Taken together, the polls suggest momentum for Kenney. Geller cautioned, however, that polls are simply snapshots in time. He said he fully expected Williams to prove more competitive Tuesday.
Geller predicted that if "the primary were held today" - a week before the actual voting - "Kenney tops out around 45 percent" and Williams at about 26 or 27 percent.
The Inquirer poll has Kenney, who is white, in a statistical dead heat with Williams, a prominent African American officeholder, among black voters. Kenney was attracting 33 percent of the African American vote compared with Williams' 25 percent. The margin of error for this more narrow sliver of the poll, however, is 10 percent. About 20 percent of black voters surveyed were undecided or declined to say whom they supported.
Kenney is leading among white voters with 58 percent to Abraham's 18 percent and Williams' 6 percent, the poll found.
"I think Kenney has done a masterful job consolidating the white vote," Geller said, "and is very, very competitive among black voters."
Kenney held an edge over the other candidates, too, when those polled were asked who would do a better job tackling the city's top problems, including education.
On education, Geller said, 44 percent sided with Kenney to 14 percent for Abraham and 13 percent for Williams.
That is telling, in that Williams came into the campaign with a reputation as an advocate for school choice - improving public schools, expanding charter schools, and using tax dollars to pay private tuition.
Kenney was viewed far more favorably than any of his five rivals. Among those surveyed, 68 percent held a favorable opinion of him, while only 9 percent saw him in an unfavorable light.
In comparison, Abraham was rated unfavorably by 27 percent of those polled, and Williams by 30 percent. Only Street - who served prison time for unpaid taxes - had a greater negative rating, with 64 percent of those polled viewing him unfavorably.
Geller said Kenney was proving a draw even among voters who had favorable opinions of his opponents. One of the voters polled, Robert Harvey, is a case in point.
The 81-year-old Mount Airy resident is a fan of Abraham's, but was persuaded to support Kenney - who has considerable labor backing - after getting a few calls from members of his former union, the Communication Workers of America.
"I take their advice," Harvey said. "They're checking out the candidates and issues and things like that. So he's our guy. And nothing against Lynne Abraham. She's a sweetheart."
More than one voter expressed concerned about the influence powerful backers might wield with the candidates.
"If my choice is between multiple Main Line billionaires or slightly questionable labor union officials, I'll probably go with the labor union officials," said Christopher Puchalsky, 39, an engineer who lives near Clark Park in West Philadelphia, "even though I think they play an outsize influence in our city." He is supporting Kenney.
Geller said a third of those surveyed who held favorable opinions of Williams said they nonetheless planned to vote for Kenney.
Reaction to the poll came in from four campaigns.
"We are pleased that voters are seeing our opponents' attacks for what they are, but we're not taking anything for granted," said Lauren Hitt, Kenney's spokeswoman. "We're going to continue to work as hard as ever, along with the unprecedented, diverse coalition behind Jim's campaign to turn out the vote on election day."
Abraham said in a statement, "We're going to let the voters decide."
"Polls come and go, but what's been persistent is the education crisis in Philadelphia," Williams said in a statement issued by spokesman Albert L. Butler. "That's what I've focused my career on; that's what I will focus on as mayor."
Street said of his single-digit showing: "Three percent is better than no percent."
The poll also asked about other prominent figures in the city - Nutter, Ramsey, former Gov. Ed Rendell, and Philadelphia School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.
The poll found Nutter with a 59-36 favorable/unfavorable rating. Hite was much less popular, with a 34-30 split. Wildly popular were both Rendell (75-13) and Ramsey - whose 78-12 split put him well ahead of his boss.
Those polled were tepid when it came to the future of the city. Forty percent thought Philadelphia was headed in the right direction, compared with 43 percent who said it was on the wrong track.
But Nutter largely escaped blame in that regard: Sixty percent of those polled approved of the two-term mayor's job performance.