A new NBC4 poll shows D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray leading in the race for this spring's mayoral Democratic primary, and that a majority of D.C. residents think the city is headed in the right direction.
But the poll also shows that the race remains volatile and that Gray, the incumbent, does not have an easy path to victory.
While Gray is leading with 28 percent support among likely voters, Councilmember Muriel Bowser is in striking distance at 20 percent, according to a new NBC4/WAMU/Washington Informer/Marist poll.
Here’s how support stacks up among likely primary voters:
- Mayor Vincent Gray: 28 percent
- Councilmember Muriel Bowser: 20 percent
- Councilmember Jack Evans: 13 percent
- Councilmember Tommy Wells: 12 percent
- Andy Shallal: 6 percent
- Councilmember Vincent Orange: 4 percent
- Reta Lewis: 3 percent
- Carlos Allen: less than 1 percent
That crowded candidate field could be just one of several complications in the race.
Gray's challengers could split the vote among them. But Bowser also could be a catalyst for voters who want to vote against Gray. More than 20 percent of voters say Bowser would be their second choice, whereas Gray would be a second choice for just 12 percent.
"In the Democratic primary, Mayor Gray benefits from a very crowded field, but there are many persuadable voters," said Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. "Voters' second choice may be key in the closing weeks of the campaign."
The poll also shows some high marks for the job Gray's been doing. A majority of Democrats say they're satisfied with his job as mayor, and 74 percent of Democrats say the city is on the right track.
Nonetheless, the ongoing investigation into Gray's 2010 campaign finances has tarnished his image, and 53 percent of Democrats say they are less likely to vote for Mayor Gray given the investigation.
Among Democrats, 46 percent said they thought Gray was involved in unethical -- but not illegal – actions, while 24 percent said they believe he was behind something illegal. Fifteen percent said they believed he did nothing wrong, and 15 percent of Democrats are unsure.
Those polled also showed that the positive perception of Gray's work as mayor doesn't strongly correlate with his favorability rates. Among registered voters, 46 percent have a favorable opinion of Gray himself, while 48 percent have a negative opinion.
While Bowser, Evans and Wells have similar positive ratings, their negative ratings are much lower.
Poll results also showed division among racial lines.
Among African Americans, Gray is supported by 41 percent of likely voters, but he has the support of 10 percent of white voters. Evans and Wells are in the single digits among black voters and splitting the white vote with support above 20 percent each. Bowser is the sole leading candidate with crossover appeal, with 18 percent of white voters and 23 percent of black voters.
With less than five weeks until the primary on April 1, the race is still fluid. Twelve percent of voters are still undecided, and 19 percent of those who supported a candidate say they might vote differently by the time the primary rolls around.
However, it seems clear that this could become a two-person race in the campaign's closing weeks, with an outside chance of a third candidate pulling ahead.
The poll surveyed 1,138 adults between Feb. 17 and Feb. 23 and has a margin of error of between 2.9 and 4.8 percentage points. The poll was being conducted as the Washington Post endorsed Bowser, but pollsters were unable to determine whether Bowser's relatively strong showing could be the result of the endorsement.