News & Politics

Can Gray Get Out the “Super Voters”?

DC’s mayoral race may come down to whose support base can be mobilized in the final hours.

Christ Episcopal Church in Georgetown, among others, saw low numbers of voters Tuesday. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

The light voting in today DC’s Democratic primary presents Mayor Vince Gray with his best shot for a second term—if he can get his “super voters” to the polls.

By midday on April 1, precincts citywide were reporting extremely low turnout in a close race with council member Muriel Bowser—so low that the winner may well be the candidate who can deliver voters in the final hours.

In other words, the outcome of the primary will come down to mechanics: Can Bowser’s team summon voters in the largely white precincts west of Rock Creek Park, or will Gray be able to “knock and drag” his African-American women—known as super voters—this evening?

With less than four hours to go before polls close, it’s clear that none of the four major candidates in the race stirred passion in voters. Many Washingtonians were against incumbent Gray because of allegations that he knew of corrupt contributions to his 2010 campaign. But the negative mindset rarely motivates voters to veer from their daily routines to get to a voting station.

From Chevy Chase in upper Northwest to Georgetown along the Potomac River to Congress Heights over the hills of Anacostia, precinct captains reported the lowest number of voters they had seen in years.

“Last election we had lines in the morning,” said Derek Santos, precinct captain in Precinct 141, at the Frank Reeves Municipal Center at 14th and U streets, Northwest. “We haven’t had a line all day, but there’s been no lull, either—more like a steady stream.”

By 1:30, 262 people had cast votes there, including special ballots that could be challenged. That’s about half of what poll workers had expected.

An hour later, in Georgetown, mayoral candidate Jack Evans jogged by Christ Episcopal Church at 31st and O streets, Northwest, with his golden retriever. If he had stopped to check the turnout at the church in his home turf of Ward 2, he would have found few voters. During the morning hours when voters are often lined up, one neighbor reported there were more political workers outside on the street than voters inside casting ballots. “Low turnout is good for me,” Evans said later in the day from Ward 7. “If the other candidates don’t get out their voters, that means I have a chance.”

Bowser had worked hard in hopes of turning out high numbers of supporters in the white wards west of Rock Creek Park. But at Precinct 51 at Lafayette Elementary School, turnout was low. The precinct is in Bowser’s Ward 4, but it’s west of the park. She needs strong majorities there to beat Gray.

But even deep in Gray’s territory—in largely African-American precincts east of the Anacostia River—no one seemed to be bothering to vote, according to reports during the day. Gray’s campaign manager, Chuck Thies, had predicted a low turnout. Fewer voters were supposed to give Gray an edge, since polls haves shown his base is more solid than Bowser’s. But if turnout is low across the District, either candidate could squeak out a victory.

Precinct 141 inside the Reeves Center is an ideal testing ground to gauge whether voting patterns have changed in the District. It lies at gentrification central. Condominiums are filling up with new residents along 14th Street. A Trader Joe’s just opened across U Street. But the precinct is home to middle-class African-American families as well as Latinos.

We will have to wait to see how they voted, but one result is already in: On this April 1 Democratic primary for mayor, voters made a joke of it.