Campaign Notebook: September 2, 2010

Photo courtesy of
‘Polling Place Sign’
courtesy of ‘moonShadows7’

Well, we’re down to the wire here. Early voting has started. Also, this is the first week where there has been a significant change in outlook, and that’s a bad thing for the guy on the wrong end. There are only eleven days left until the primary, and Mayor Adrian Fenty is facing a double-digit deficit in the polls. Can he recover in time? Well, let’s get down to the nitty gritty.

The Big Race

Can Fenty recover? A Washington Post poll released last Sunday shows Fenty trailing Vincent Gray by 17 points, among likely voters. That is a huge deficit to overcome in the final days of a campaign. The news of this poll propelled Gray into front-runner status, and his campaign has begun spreading the word that a Gray victory is inevitable. As such, we’ve seen more endorsements come in for Gray, including yesterday’s from Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3). At this point, conventional wisdom would tell is it’s near impossible for Fenty to win on September 14. He does have money, and could certainly bombard the airwaves and mount a large GOTV effort. However, it may all be too little, too late.

How in the world did this happen? The Post poll indicates that most District voters are pleased with the results Fenty has brought over the past four years. Voters misgivings come from his personality and governing style. DC is a small enough town that voters will hold a leader accountable for how they get things done. The ends do not justify the means. The Gray campaign capitalized on this by highlighting Gray’s attention to detail and commitment to openness. Fenty’s change in heart, with promises to do things differently came far too late. Anyone watching this campaign knew that this would be the centerpiece of Gray’s attacks–how they Fenty campaign waited this long is completely mind-boggling. If Fenty loses, this election will become a case study for political science students for years to come.

But, Gray should be careful. On Wednesday, Gray and Fenty sparred in what was likely the last debate before the primary. There are a lot of round-ups on the debate’s content, but here are some general thoughts. Fenty is not going to win any public speaking awards, but he was more honest and open than he has been at any point in the campaign. Gray, in an attempt to push the “victory is inevitable” message, came off as smug, and his constant laughing seemed forced and crass. If Gray wasn’t leading by so much in the polls, I’d consider this to be a mistake, however at this point even if all of the undecideds broke to Fenty, it would be hard to come up with a scenario where Gray loses. In any event, though, things can and do change quickly in the last week of a campaign, so Gray should try to avoid looking too smug. On Friday’s FOX5 debate, Gray refused to admit to any mistakes he has ever made. Poor choice, show some humility.

So, where are we? Well, my take and everyone else’s would be that Gray is cruising towards a victory. It’s very hard to see this ending any other way, unless there is some sort of bombshell development in the next week. I imagine that as the “Gray is inevitable” storyline unfolds, we’ll see more endorsements and more money pile into Gray. We may see undecided voters break in large numbers for Gray, because people love to vote for a winner. All of the pieces are coming together for Gray, and there’s very little Fenty could do to change it. If the election were held today, I’d predict a Gray victory by 7-10 points.

But, what if? What are some things Fenty could do to turn it around right now? He could fire District Attorney General Peter Nickles, for one. Nickles has been at the center of most of Fenty’s troubles, and firing him could send a clear signal he is willing to make tough choices within his administration to help improve transparency and communication. He could say that while Nickles is a dedicated public servant, the working relationship has harmed his ability to govern. Fenty could also commit himself to sitting down with every member of the Council after the election to talk about rebuilding the Council-Mayor relationship. There’s nothing to lose at this point. Gray may counter by saying it’s an act of desperation–which it would be–but a powerful act nonetheless. Of course, though, without Nickles, Fenty would be on his own for the remainder of a possibly lame-duck administration.

Council Chair

Kwame in charge as election day nears. Polling shows Kwame Brown with a commanding lead over Vincent Orange. There are sill some undecided voters, but it’s looking less and less like Orange has a chance to catch-up. Orange has made some last ditch attempts to file complaints with the Office of Campaign Finance, regarding campaign filings from previous elections. All predictions are at this point that Kwame Brown will win the primary for Council Chair. That, of course, will trigger a future special election to fill Brown’s at-Large seat.

at-large Council

A Michael Brown victory is looking like a real possibility. The news out of the at-large race is not good for incumbent Phil Mendelson. The latest Washington Post poll shows Brown with a non-trivial lead, and it’s looking like it may be difficult for Mendo to clear up the confusion before election day. In an ideal world, Michael D. Brown would drop out of this race, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen. Instead, some have suggested Clark Ray should drop out and endorse Mendelson, if only to avoid a Brown victory. This would put Clark Ray in a good position for the at-Large seat that will likely be vacated by Kwame Brown. Confused yet? Well, yeah. If you want to know more about this, I suggest taking a look at the Loose Lips column from this week.

Ward One

Graham poll unsurprisingly shows Graham with a sizable lead. The numbers are about what I would expect from an internal poll, 70% for Graham, 11% for Weaver and 6% for Smith. Graham also locked-up the Washington Post endorsement this week. Weaver has run a good scrappy campaign, and I’d expect to see him do better than 11% at the ballot box. Smith has also made a last minute push with advertising, and has a ballot placement advantage. In a three-way race, though, it’s hard to see any math that doesn’t result in a Graham victory.

Could there be an October surprise? Remember folks, Ted Loza’s trial is schedule to begin in October. Of course, Graham has not been implicated in any wrongdoing but the trial will certainly put the spotlight back on Graham for at least a news cycle or two. Is there an opening for GOP candidate Marc Morgan? Well, Morgan hopes so.  Only time will tell, but with these re-elect numbers for Graham, there would need to be a huge bombshell.

Ward Five

Delano Hunter snags Washington Post endorsement. The Washington Post editorial board, which seems to be internally confused and conflicted, has endorsed Delano Hunter for the Ward 5 Council seat. The Post makes it a point to defend Hunter’s anti-Gay Marriage platform, and emphasizes that the candidate is not a homophobe. To be fair, the Post does make some good arguments against Harry Thomas Jr.’s re-election, but it may be hard for many to overlook Hunter’s views on gay marriage. Even with the Post’s endorsement it doesn’t seem likely that Thomas will lose his seat. However, this is quickly becoming the race to watch, along with the at-large election.

Ward Six

Tommy Wells also endorsed by the Post, expected to win re-election. While Kelvin Robinson may have embarked on a last-minute sign deployment around Capitol Hill, he doesn’t seem to have enough traction to unseat Tommy Wells.

Dave has been following DC news and politics for nearly eight years and previous authored the blog “Why I Hate DC.” Dave tries to give a voice to those frustrated by the “politics as usual” in the area. By day he works in the technology department of a non-profit, by night he writes about news and politics and works at a local hardware store. Dave is also a contributor for Greater Greater Washington. You can follow him on Twitter or read his personal blog.

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