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On the day David Catania hoped to be elected mayor of the District of Columbia, his morning began with a malfunction. Shortly before his turn to vote, the machines jammed at his Dupont Circle polling place. Catania was forced to cast his vote, presumably for himself, by stuffing his ballot into a box.

Then he ventured into enemy territory.

The first two post-voting campaign stops for the at-large member of the D.C. Council were in Ward 4, the home turf of his leading opponent, Democratic nominee Muriel Bowser. Bowser won both of the precincts in the Democratic primary this April, and she leads Catania in the ward by a 51-22 margin among likely voters in a recent Washington City Paper/Kojo Nnamdi Show poll.

No matter: Catania was at his very grinniest as he greeted voters this morning. Part of the reason, he explained, was his track record. He first ran for office in third grade, when he stood for class president, then continued to run in middle school, high school, college, and, of course, in the District.

“I’ve never lost,” he said. “There’s a first time for everything, but I’ve never lost one.” He paused. “Then again, I’ve never run for president.”

Every major poll has shown Catania trailing Bowser, in a city where Democrats dominate and no general election in the home rule era has been competitive. But Catania, whose campaign team has consistently dismissed the polls for their methodology, thinks this time is different. He put his odds at “50-50.”

“This is a tossup at this point,” he said. “I think we’ve got the message and the momentum.”

A mother stopped by with her young son, a student at Lafayette Elementary School. “What’s his name?” she asked him. “You remember? Catania?” As they walked away, the son asked, “Is that the guy we’re voting for?”

Catania picked up where he left off. “The City Paper endorsement was a lot more thoughtful than the paper of record’s,” he said—-an unsurprising sentiment, given who picked him and who didn’t. “At least you all live in the city. I don’t think a single member of the Post editorial board is a District resident.”

To become the city’s first white mayor, not to mention the first non-Democrat, the Republican-turned-independent Catania will have to perform better in the overwhelmingly black neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River than he has in the polls. (The City Paper poll had him at just 3 percent in Ward 8, to Bowser’s 63 percent.) Asked if he’ll post better numbers in wards 7 and 8 than these, he hesitated. “Umm, we’ll see,” he said. “I think there’s a huge undecided vote in both of those wards. People are reticent to put themselves out there in the polls.”

A man wearing a suit emerged from the school. “I voted for you,” he told Catania enthusiastically. “I hope you kick some ass!”

Another voter followed. “My parents are turning in their grave,” he told Catania, “’cause I just voted for a Republican!”

“Independent,” Catania corrected with a nervous smile.

In a city where 91 percent of voters cast their ballots for Barack Obama in 2012, Catania will need plenty of Democratic support. Our poll had him drawing a respectable 27 percent of Democrats, still well behind Bowser’s 49 percent. But some prominent Democrats have backed him, including Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, who chairs the Democratic Governors Association.

Outside Lafayette, another prominent national Democrat joined Camp Catania: James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute and a member of the executive committee of the Democratic National Committee, told Catania he was supporting him. His reason? Catania’s lonely opposition to public funding of Nationals Park.

“You know who that is?” Catania staffer Brendan Williams-Kief asked his boss quietly as Zogby departed. “That’s a big deal.”

From Lafayette, Catania strolled across the street—-and across the ward line into Ward 3—-to the popular Broad Branch Market. Even if part of it is Bowser country, Upper Northwest is likely to be among Catania’s strongest areas when the returns come in tonight. More difficult will be the section of town he’ll visit this afternoon, with stops along Alabama Avenue SE, before he returns to more favorable territory around Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle.

Catania will close out his night with a party at the Long View Gallery in Shaw. As the returns come in, he’ll get to see whether the streak he began in third grade might finally come to an end.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery