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Muriel Bowser‘s campaign has insisted since January that the crowded mayoral field has only two viable candidates: Bowser and incumbent mayor Vince Gray. Now a new poll from WAMU and NBC4 suggests that the race is headed in that direction.

More than a month after the Washington Post released the last public poll that wasn’t funded by a campaign, Gray is still in the lead with 28 percent of likely voters. But Bowser has 20 percent in the new poll, putting her ahead (even with the margin of error) of challengers Jack Evans and Tommy Wells, who received 13 and 12 percent, respectively.

Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal received 6 percent, Councilmember Vincent Orange took in 4 percent, and Clintonite ex-State Department official Reta Jo Lewis received 3 percent. Carlos Allen‘s appearances with a tour bus worthy of a rock star at debates haven’t won him many supporters—-he received 1 percent of the vote.

With all the other Gray challengers tying up 36 percent of the vote, Bowser isn’t the only choice for the 63 percent of Democrats who want to see him ousted from the mayoral suite. But she could benefit more than Gray if some of the candidates drop out or lose supporters. 21 percent of respondents picked Bowser as their second choice, with Evans receiving 18 percent. Gray and Wells were picked as the second choices for 12 percent of respondents each.

Naturally, ongoing federal investigation into Gray’s 2010 campaign hasn’t helped him in the race, with 53 percent saying it makes them less likely to vote for him. But not for everyone thinks guilty pleas from campaign associates are so bad—-7 percent of poll respondents said it made them more likely to vote for Gray. If you’re one of these people, LL wants to hear from you.

28 percent of the vote isn’t much of an endorsement for an incumbent mayor in a city where 74 percent of Democrats say the city is headed in the right direction. Still,  Gray campaign manager Chuck Thies trumpeted the results in an email to LL, wondering what a barrage of mailings from Gray’s rivals had done for their trailing campaigns.

“Seven candidates and the local media establishment have been campaigning against Vince, yet he is still in the lead,” Thies writes. “We know exactly how to deal with that kind of opposition. Muhammad Ali taught us the technique. It’s called Rope-a-Dope.”

Bowser’s campaign reacted to the poll as well, saying in a press release that the poll shows voters choosing her as the leading candidate to take on Gray.

But if Bowser misses her shot at the top job, At-Large Councilmember David Catania, still considering a bid in the general election, could find supporters if he runs. The poll shows 41 percent of Democrats saying they’d “definitely” vote against Gray in the general election if he won the primary.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery