Mayor Vince Gray and Council member Muriel Bowser are in a dead heat with 11 days to go before the April 1 Democratic primary for mayor, according to the first public poll in the DC mayoral race taken since federal prosecutors alleged Gray had a direct role in the the “shadow campaign” funded on his behalf in 2010 by businessman Jeffrey Thompson.
The poll, published by Washington City Paper and WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show, shows Bowser has continued to gain on Gray. Both are supported by 27 percent of likely voters. Earlier surveys showed Gray hovering around 27 or 28 percent, while Bowser has steadily moved up in polling as the race have progressed.
Gray and Bowser are the best-funded candidates in the race, with each claiming about $700,000 on hand in their March 10 fundraising report. Both campaigns say they are burning furiously through their cash on direct mail, door-to-door canvassing, and other tactics.
“It validates what we’ve been saying the whole time, that this race would come down to two people” Bowser’s campaign manager, Bo Shuff, tells Washingtonian. “When two-thirds of the city wants a new mayor, it tends to get one.”
Thompson pleaded guilty on March 10 to local and federal charges of consipiring to commit election fraud by funnelling more than $2.3 million in unreported money to help elect candidates around the country. As part of his plea, Thompson told federal prosecutors that he financed an illicit campaign to help elect Gray in 2010, and that Gray was an active participant of the operation. Gray has not been charged with any wrongdoing, and has denied any involvment with the shadow campaign.
Since Thompson’s plea, Gray has asked voters whether they believe him and his track record or Thompson and the allegations made in his plea deal. When asked that same question in today’s poll, 48 percent of respondents said Thompson, while only 24 percent said Gray.
“That’s a clown question, bro,” says Gray’s irascible campaign manager, Chuck Thies, quoting a popular rebuke coined by Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper. “How many people even know who Jeff Thompson is? Check his name ID.”
Thies says that in the days before “Stormy Monday,” as he calls the day Thompson pleaded guilty, the Gray campaign’s internal polling showed the mayor pulling ahead of the rest of the field.
“The growth we had achieved in late February, early March was impacted,” he says. “You could have said, ‘Who do you trust, Mickey Mouse or Vince Gray?’ People would have said Mickey Mouse.”
Gray's base is "unshakeable," Thies says, but it has not appeared to expand since January, when the first major public poll of the campaign also showed the mayor claiming 28 percent of likely voters.
“When did Jeff Thompson become the knight in shining armor?” Thies asks. “I thought this was the guy who spent millions to subvert democracy.” Thies says that Gray is the victim of a “coordinated smear campaign” by its competitors, the media, and the US Attorney’s office.
The other six candidates for mayor are far behind Gray and Bowser. Jack Evans drew 13 percent of likely voters, while Tommy Wells, who has made his campaign largely about the fact that he is the only elected official in the field to not have taken money from Thompson over the years, is at 9 percent. Busboys and Poets restaurateur Andy Shallal is next at 7 percent, trailed by Vincent Orange at 2 percent, Reta Jo Lewis at 1 percent, and Carlos Allen at zero. Fourteen percent of voters queried were undecided.
The poll was conducted by North Carolina firm Public Policy Polling between March 13 and 16 and questioned 860 likely voters using land lines. Eighteen percent of the sample was between 18 and 45 years old, 41 percent was between 46 and 65, and 23 percent was older than 65.