News & Politics

5 Reasons the DC Mayoral Race Is Over and 5 Reasons It’s Not

The District will elect a new mayor in 13 days. Here's where the race stands.

Photograph of Bowser by Flickr user crystalndavis. Photograph of Catania by Benjamin Freed.

With upside-down-flag-stamped ballot guides in mailboxes, early voting underway, and less than two weeks until Election Day, DC’s mayoral candidates are making their final pitches to the city. The most recent poll, issued Monday by the business group Economic Growth DC, put Democratic nominee Muriel Bowser 12 percentage points ahead of her closest rival, independent David Catania. Bowser, since winning her party’s April 1 primary, has tried to run as closely to a sure thing as possible, a relatively safe bet in a city where Democrats account for 76 percent of all registered voters. But Catania, a five-term Council member who’s run both the city’s health and education committees, has put together one of the stronger non-Democratic mayoral bids in DC’s 40-year history of home rule. With only seven percent of voters still undecided in Monday’s poll, the mayoral election could be decided already. Then again, there’s a chance it could get exciting at the finish.

It’s Over Because:

1. The District’s predominant Democrats—with a push by President Obama—finally realized they had to hold their noses and line up behind Bowser, who goes into the final days with a double-digit lead in the polls.

2. Though Bowser continues to underwhelm in her ability to grasp complex issues and offer specific solutions, she didn’t come off as ignorant or bone-headed in any of the public debates.

3. Catania failed to get beyond proving his copious accomplishments and hammering Bowser for her lack of bandwidth and ties to greedy cronies. To punch past his 27 percent in the polls, he had to make a jump based on his passion and likeability. That never happened, no matter how many warm and fuzzy ads he cut.

4. Bowser collected much more dough. Last summer she had $720,323 in her campaign’s coffer, compared to Catania’s $350,707. As of the campaigns’ October 10 finance reports, Bowser had stored away more than $1 million; Catania had $562,063 on hand. Expect a tidal wave of media for Bowser and plenty of poll workers wearing green on November 4.

5. No one would call Bowser or Catania warm and fuzzy. Both can be brusque, dismissive and short-tempered. But Bowser can flash a broad smile and exude enough charm to make her the more inviting candidate. Catania could never pull off nice.

It’s not over because:

1. Bowser’s primary win was hardly a coronation, and her vote is soft. The District’s voter pool might be forbiddingly Democratic for a former Republican, but the majority party might not be that enthusiastic. Only 27 percent of Democrats showed up for the April 1 primary in which Bowser won with 40 percent of the vote. If independents and Republicans vote in droves in the general election, and Democrats stay on auto-pilot, it could push Catania over the line. Bottom line: low turnout is good for Catania.

2. A white, former Republican is unlikely to make much of a dent east of the Anacostia River in wards 7 and 8, or in Bowser’s home turf of Ward 4. So Catania’s supporters are trying to boost his profile in two wards: The District’s whitest and wealthiest pocket west of Rock Creek Park in Ward 3; and Ward 6, home to many newer residents who would be vulnerable to Catania’s promises of improved public schools and clean, competent government. (Think the Tommy Wells voters who might not heed his Bowser endorsement.)

3. There are still 13 days until the election. Both Bowser and Catania have been very careful—almost completely passionless—in their campaigns, but it’s not too late for Bowser to blow her stack or show herself to be the empty suit Catania has attempted to portray.

4. Even with nearly a year’s worth of Bowser hagiography from the Washington Post’s editorial board and Metro section, Posties and the rest of us hacks on the local beat need something to write about. A plausible independent mayoral bid by a long-tenured DC Council member is a heck of a lot more interesting than any DC Council hearing. Hell, even Faith, the nine-time, 90-year-old candidate running on the Statehood Green ticket, got a bit of ink spilled over her.

5. Carol Schwartz could win. So could Faith.

Find Benjamin Freed and Harry Jaffe on Twitter at @brfreed and @harryjaffe.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.