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Ward 4 D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser is in a dead heat with Mayor Vince Gray in the mayoral race two weeks before the primary, a new poll commissioned by Washington City Paper and WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show reveals.
Bowser and Gray both received 27 percent of the vote in the poll of 860 likely Democratic primary voters. The automated phone poll, conducted between March 13 and 16 by Public Policy Polling, is the first public poll since shadow campaign benefactor Jeff Thompson pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges and accused Gray of knowing about the scheme last week, and it shows voters heavily believe Thompson’s account.
“I think everybody has to admit this is a two-person race,” Bowser campaign manager Bo Shuff tells LL.
Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans had 13 percent. Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells had 9 percent, the first time in the race that he’s dipped below double digits in a public poll. The poll had a +/-3.3 percentage point margin of error.
Surprisingly, the Thompson plea last week didn’t noticeably affect Gray’s numbers between public polls, with Gray receiving 28 percent of likely voters in a February survey. Still, Gray campaign manager Chuck Thies says the mayor was polling higher than 28 percent in the campaign’s own surveys immediately before the Thompson plea.
Gray’s campaign, which had the largest bank account in the race in last week’s campaign filings, plans to make up the lost support in the final days of the campaign with more mailers and canvassers, according to Thies. He blames the discrepancy between voter satisfaction with the city’s direction and Gray’s poll numbers on Gray being mistreated between the media and his opponents.
“The only logical conclusion is a protracted smear campaign,” Thies says.
But if Thompson’s plea isn’t swaying Gray’s most devoted supporters, voters do know who of the two that they believe. The poll asked a question that echoed Gray’s rhetorical one at last week’s State of the District address: Who do you believe, Gray or Thompson? It found 48 percent of respondents believed Thompson’s version of the 2010 campaign was more accurate than Gray’s, compared to just 24 percent who believed Gray more than Thompson.
Thies blamed the unappetizing numbers for the mayor on people who confused the shadow campaign financier with other famous Thompsons, like former Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson.
“You’re asking this in the days immediately after the Washington Post had a reckless headline that would influence public opinion,” Thies says. “So that to me is a worthless question.”
While Bowser and Gray are tied as voters’ first picks, they weren’t equally chosen as the second choice for voters—but the majority of respondents said their support was pretty firm.
Of those whose support was not very or not at all strong, 39 percent chose Bowser as their second choice, followed by Evans with 18 percent and Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal with 11 percent. A mere 10 percent chose Gray as their second choice, while 8 percent would opt for Wells.
Evans, who had been nearly tied with Bowser as the second choice in the February poll, disputed the accuracy of the second-choice rankings this time around. “Everybody likes me, but I’m the second choice of everybody,” Evans says.
Despite his dipping poll numbers, Wells insists he hasn’t lost hopes in his chances. Instead, he cited a poll by a labor group which he wouldn’t name, that he says put him in third place, and anticipated more spending from firefighter and police unions that recently endorsed him.
“I don’t believe that Vince Gray’s going to be at 27 percent at the end of this week,” Wells says.
Like many recent D.C. elections, the results split along racial lines. White voters favored Bowser, while a plurality of black respondents supported Gray:
White voters were also far less likely to believe Gray over Thompson when it came to the shadow campaign. While black voters were nearly equally divided over whether they believed Gray, Thompson, or didn’t know who to believe, 69 percent of white voters believed Thompson compared to only 10 percent who believed Gray.
The survey was the third PPP poll for City Paper and the Kojo Nnamdi Show; the pollsters predicted Gray’s winning margin in the 2010 Democratic primary and put independent David Grosso within reach of incumbent Michael Brown in the 2012 at-large D.C. Council race, which Grosso won. Full crosstabs and results from additional questions will be published online Wednesday and featured in next week’s print edition of City Paper. Tune into today’s Kojo Nnamdi Show at noon to hear some discussion of the poll’s findings, too.
Correction: Due to a graphing error, two charts originally published with this story listed incorrect totals for black and white voters’ preferences.