The mayoral debate season comes to an end tonight with the only thing more contentious than a mayoral debate: a mayoral debate and a straw poll.

When the candidates face off tonight for a debate at Anacostia High School, they’ll tote as many supporters as they can in the hopes of winning the straw poll, a prize with dubious predictive value but a great publicity one. Debate organizer Charles Wilson said the civic groups behind the debate decided to add the straw poll, limited to Ward 8 residents, to drum up enthusiasm for the race.

“We wanted to find some way to get people excited about this election,” Wilson says.

Muriel Bowser finished the Democratic primary with a 2-0 ward straw-poll record, including a crucial win in Ward 8. She faces much better odds in the majority African-American ward, with a poll showing her handily beating rival David Catania among black residents.

Still, Democrats say they aren’t leaving the door open for a Catania win—-a feat that would allow him to echo Bowser’s own unlikely straw poll victory over Vince Gray in the primary.

Ward 8 Democrats president Natalie Williams says her group has sent out 3,000 mailers urging residents to come to the debate. Bowser’s campaign, which like Catania’s campaign declined to comment on potentially busing in supporters, plans to rally in front the high school at 1601 16th St. SE at 5:30 p.m., according to campaign spokesman Joaquin McPeek.

“She’s had a very active, very strategic campaign in place to ensure that the votes are there for her,” Williams says.

Third-place candidate Carol Schwartz says she doesn’t have any grand straw poll organizing plans.

“I will not probably win the straw poll,” Schwartz says.

Doors open for the debate and straw poll at 6 p.m.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery