Sometimes this mayoral campaign is little more than a giant lesson in 1980's nostalgia, filled with odd squabbles about the Sandinistas and references to Sylvester Stallone.
Joe Lhota revealed in last night's debate that, in his mind, he's Rocky Balboa and Bill de Blasio is Ivan Drago – the two foes in "Rocky IV", the 1985 film that brought the cold war battle to the boxing ring. "We know what happened in that match: the underdog won," Lhota declared.
Lhota and de Blasio again spent some time arguing if David Dinkins or Rudy Giuliani was a worse mayor – with the police killing of Patrick Dorismond in 2000 even being raised.
History lessons aside, it may have been Lhota's best debate performance, in which he went after de Blasio for not having a "Plan B" if he's unable to convince the state legislature to fund his universal Pre-K program.
De Blasio also dramatically improved on his delivery from the second debate, and stopped using his "I'm beating you by 44 points face" -- as New York magazine described it last week.
But Lhota's biggest obstacle may not be de Blasio. He gets tangled up by his own worldview, which seems stuck in a different era. Making the Rocky reference, ripping de Blasio for supporting the Sandinistas, and using a TV ad that's chock-a-block with photos from the 1980s, you expect Lhota to start talking about the "Star Wars" missile defense program and hum the theme from "Flashdance."
It's clear that New Yorkers aren't on an oldies kick; polls show that even voters who like the Bloomberg era want to move ahead. Beyond smothering Lhota with his Republican label, de Blasio has done a good job representing change on the campaign trail while linking his opponent with the status quo.
At the end of their debate – which was their final showdown – the candidates had very revealing moments when asked about whether there are any misconceptions that voters are holding about the race.
Using a line from the Democratic primary campaign, Lhota said there's "a tale of two de Blasios" – pointedly adding: "That's not getting out there."
As he sits on his nearly-40 point lead, de Blasio simply declared: "I feel very good about the pace of this campaign. I think my message has gotten out."