We thought this heavily Democratic city would be excited by President Barack Obama’s written statement this week endorsing fellow Democrat Muriel Bowser for mayor.
What could be wrong with that?
Voters in the District backed Obama by more than 90 percent in 2008 and 2012 elections. On Monday, Bowser held a spirited, mini-rally on Freedom Plaza to tout the president’s backing: “I’m just really proud to accept the endorsement… .”
We’re sure many citizens of the city agree. But we happened to be standing next to Democratic Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh when we heard the Obama news.
“What do you think about the president endorsing Muriel Bowser?” we casually asked, expecting a positive reply.
“Well, I’m sort of shocked,” came Cheh’s surprising reply, “because I would think that before he would involve himself in local political races, he would come out four-square for statehood and argue for that.”
Cheh represents a crucial ward in the race for mayor.
At-large independent David Grosso, who hasn’t endorsed anyone in the mayor’s race, wasn’t impressed either: “I’m extremely surprised to see that the president of the United States is engaging in local politics like this.”
Grosso said it effectively opens the door for 534 members of the House and Senate to do the same thing, “kind of using our issues as a petri dish.”
Grosso wasn’t done. “I hope the people will take this into consideration that this is our city,” he said. “The federal government, including the president of the United States, should not be engaged here.”
Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie, meanwhile, said he thought it was “great” that the president backed Bowser. And, let’s say again, there’s no doubt that many, many local Democrats are happy that Obama took time to endorse her. But Washington Post columnist and WTOP commentator Clinton Yates was irritated.
“For all of Obama’s progressive politics and charm,” Yates wrote, “the public support [he offered Bowser] should be insulting to any resident of the city, if only because he hasn’t been particularly interested in this city’s issues for the years he’s been in office and there’s no need for him to be now.”
Yates did suggest he’d be impressed if first lady Michelle Obama endorsed Bowser: “That person clearly understands the rhythms and culture of the city, and is someone who has spent time nurturing relationships in each section of the District.”
■ A tightening race? The Bowser campaign remains confident that the field organization will carry her to victory next month, but the latest polling suggests a tougher race than previously thought.
A new poll for attorney general candidate Karl Racine — who was endorsed by The Washington Post this week — included a question on the mayor’s race. The poll, by veteran Ron Lester, showed Bowser leading Catania only by four points — 34 percent to 30 — with Carol Schwartz at 16 percent.
The new poll follows an independent business poll last week that showed Bowser with an eight-point lead. In mid-September, Bowser’s lead was 17 points in the NBC4/Washington Post/Marist poll. The polls are not easily compared, but the trend line is consistent.
Bowser was confident on Monday at her endorsement rally.
“We have put together a broad and diverse and energetic group of D.C. residents. You see them behind me,” she said. “And it’s these grass-roots efforts that are going to win on Nov. 4.” Bowser is also brimming with cash to trounce Catania with mailings, ads and field operations.
Catania, naturally, saw the Obama endorsement differently. He suggested it had quickly come out on Monday specifically to counter the latest polling information. But he offered no proof of that gamesmanship. Still, he said, “It really wasn’t surprising — the president is the head of the party nationally.”
Potentially more troublesome for Bowser is her continued resistance to attending more than four candidates forums this fall. Although your Notebook has written a couple of columns about the unusual decision, The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis ramped up the issue. He wrote a withering, front-page Metro section story in Sunday’s big-circulation editions. DeBonis cited several respectable community groups grousing about Bowser’s snub of their events.
Again, as we wrote last week, Bowser’s get-out-the-vote organization and flush campaign coffers may render all of this moot. But it’s not the kind of front-page news you want when voters are starting to pay attention.
Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.