The investigation has taken a toll on Liu’s campaign, which has spent more than $433,000 on legal fees in the past two years, about one-seventh of the money he’s raised for this election cycle, campaign finance records show. Liu’s job approval rating hit a high of 57 percent a few months before questions surfaced about his campaign practices and plunged to 38 percent the month after Pan’s arrest. It stood at 46 percent earlier this month, according to the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
‘‘Bad headlines produce bad polls,’’ said the institute’s director, Maurice Carroll.
Still, if the trial concludes relatively quickly and without eliciting damning information about Liu, it might not ultimately be defining for a politician who hasn’t yet formed a firm impression in many voters’ minds. Some 46 percent of respondents in a Quinnipiac poll this month said they didn’t know enough about Liu to have an opinion of him; the rest were close to evenly split among favorable and unfavorable views.
Clearly, the trial is ‘‘not the kind of attention that you want when your campaign is trying to get its grounding,’’ said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. ‘‘The saving grace is: Presumably it ends, and maybe he’s able to turn the page and move on.’’
The case is a fraught one for Asian-Americans, many of whom cheered the Taiwan-born Liu’s emergence as the community’s first member to win citywide office in New York City. The city is home to about 1.5 million Asians, including the largest Chinese population outside Asia.
Asian-Americans hoped Liu would help raise their political profile, so ‘‘this thing happening is a tremendous shock and disappointment,’’ said Peter Kwong, an Asian-American studies and urban affairs professor at Hunter College.
Some feel that Asian-American donors and fundraisers have gotten unfair scrutiny after other campaign finance allegations during the past two decades, said Kwong. In one example, former Democratic fundraiser and Hong Kong native Norman Hsu was convicted in a case that prompted Hillary Rodham Clinton to return more than $800,000 in contributions years ago.
But whatever those sentiments, some Asian-Americans also lament that Liu didn’t see to it that no such allegations could be made against his campaign, Kwong said.
‘‘For such an astute politician, this is not very elegant management, in terms of fundraising. So that’s very unfortunate,’’ he said.