If the election were held today, the answer would probably be no. And if the mayor’s popularity stays on its current trajectory, the answer stays no. “There’s no way you can win reelection when you’re polling in the mid-30s,” says political consultant Chuck Thies, referencing a recent citywide survey by Clarus Research Group. “There’s no way.”
But let’s back up a bit: Does Gray even want to run for re-election? His first year in office hasn’t exactly been fun. He’s caught flack for relatively minor booboos like putting a disconcerting number of his allies’ kids on the city payroll. And, in a rather more significant headache, federal prosecutors are probing allegations that his campaign promised oddball candidate Sulaimon Brown cash and employment in in return for secret election-season help. If the U.S. Attorney’s Office winds up bringing charges, then the chances of Gray seeking or winning re-election will probably be slim. (Gray has denied any wrongdoing .)
Also keep in mind that Gray will turn 70 this year. That’s not to say he’s a fogey—the man was a star baseball player in his youth and we suspect he could beat up any of the 12 current members of the D.C. Council. But Gray may be past the age where he feels like he has anything left to prove. For the record: Aides say the mayor hasn’t ruled out running for a second term.
If he does, and manages to get a more respectable approval rating in the next couple of years, the next question would be: Who could beat him? Wilson Building scuttlebutt holds that Councilmembers Muriel Bowser, Vincent Orange, or Tommy Wells could take a run. D.C. also has a history of turning to political newcomers, like Tony Williams in 1998. Police Chief Cathy Lanier is popular, and U.S. Attorney Ron Machen certainly made a name for himself with his takedown of disgraced former Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr.
Bottom line: If Gray runs again, how he does depends on who take him on. If a crowded field competes for the coalition that backed Adrian Fenty in 2010, Gray could win with the same middle-class, black base that made him mayor. But a one-on-one matchup with Bowser, with her base in the kingmaking Ward 4 and her strong ties to Fenty’s funders, could prove tougher. If someone like Orange were to make Gray compete for voters in predominantly black Wards 5, 7, and 8, it could be tougher still.