Poll: Vince Gray Still Leads DC Mayoral Race, but Muriel Bowser Closing In

Voters approve of Gray's record as mayor, but swirling ethical questions about his 2010 campaign could still drag him down.

By: Benjamin Freed

A new poll released Tuesday night shows that Mayor Vince Gray is still on track to beat a crowded field in the April 1 Democratic mayoral primary, but that voters are still troubled by the scandal surrounding his 2010 campaign.

The survey, sponsored by WAMU, NBC 4, and the Washington Informer, finds that while 74 percent of likely voters in the April 1 Democratic primary feel the city is moving on the right track, 63 percent would like a new mayor. And though 56 percent of Democrats approve of Gray’s job performance, 70 percent say they believe he acted either unethically or illegally in 2010, when his mayoral run was aided by an unreported $653,000 “shadow campaign” that remains under federal investigation today. (Gray has not been accused of any wrongdoing.)

But even with cloudy campaign ethics hanging over him, Gray still leads the other candidates for his job, although his nearest rival, Council member Muriel Bowser, is closing. The poll gives Gray the support of 28 percent of likely voters, with Bowser getting 20 percent. A poll released in January by the Washington Post put Gray at 24 percent and Bowser at 12 percent.

Bowser also seems to be pulling away from other challengers: in the new poll are Council members Jack Evans, with 13 percent support, and Tommy Wells, with 12 percent support. Busboys and Poets restaurateur Andy Shallal, Council member Vincent Orange, and former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis continue to poll in single digits.

The poll was conducted last week by researchers at Marist College and surveyed 1,138 by landline and mobile phone, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percent.

The poll shows a racial divide among voters in their feelings about the federal investigation into Gray’s 2010 campaign. Eighty-two percent of white voters say the issue makes them less likely to vote for him, while only one-third of black voters say the same. Gray is also backed by 41 percent of black Democrats, but only 10 percent of whites, while Bowser’s support is more evenly split with 23 percent of blacks and 18 percent of whites backing the Council member from upper Northwest.

Bowser has been picking up steam outside of polls lately, too, nabbing the Post’s endorsement last week, as well as a nod from EMILY’s List, a political group that backs female Democratic politicians. “Now we’ve seen another poll that demonstrates there are only two options in this race,” Bowser’s campaign manager, Bo Shuff, writes in an email.

But Gray is still the frontrunner, and his campaign manager, self-declared election constabulary Chuck Thies, is confident it will remain that way. 

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

Thies might be taking notes from the Greatest Of All Time, but the poll shows that even if Gray prevails in the primary, he is vulnerable in the general election. When asked if they would vote for Gray if he is their party’s candidate in November, 41 percent of registered Democrats say they will “definitely vote against him” with just 44 percent sticking with him.

Those figures can only be a boon for Council member David Catania, who is in the exploratory stages of an independent run but certain to enter the race after the Democratic primary .