Tom Sherwood's Notebook: 09/01/10

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    The scene outside the downtown elections office at One Judiciary Square Monday was festive. Voters were lined up. The front flower boxes were transformed into a patchwork quilt of election signs. Bullhorns were blaring. Chants were chanted. It was noisy and impassioned, and people were even laughing and having a good time. Democracy. There’s nothing like it.

    It was the first day of the city’s experiment with two weeks of primary voting. Mayor Adrian Fenty arrived early and stayed for more than an hour with his cheering supporters. Front-runner Vincent Gray (see the poll discussion below) held an early-morning news conference on site but then left the stage to Fenty. We guess that's part of the low-key style we’ll get used to if Gray becomes mayor.

    Only the 441 4th St. voting site is open now. Four others will open on Saturday around the city. If you're a registered primary voter, there's no excuse for not voting. It’s not just a right. It’s a duty. So vote.

    • Post poll.

    The Washington Post poll that came out this past Sunday was sobering news for the Fenty campaign. As Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post and others have written, Fenty’s credits and demerits don’t add up in the traditional manner. As we have written, a good size of the population likes the direction of the city in general but apparently doesn’t like the general in charge.

    The poll has been diced, sliced and weighed in every which way. Gray has what must be considered a strong, perhaps invincible lead, but there are a few slivers of hope for the battered Fenty folks.

    First, we’ll see whether the “ground game” that Fenty has pursued to get voters to polls will produce results. The campaign has the necessary money and says it’s been identifying its voters. Will those voters materialize at the polls? Will worried Fenty operatives drag them there?

    On Monday, there was a steady stream of Fenty buses and vans carrying voters to the polls. Some Gray supporters insisted that some of those voters would take the free ride but vote for Gray.

    Monday was a good start for Fenty, with his vehicles vastly outnumbering Gray’s. We can watch the two weeks of early voting to see whether there is in fact a difference-making ground game or just talk of one.

    Another Fenty sliver is that The Post poll had 34 percent of the voters indicating that they are undecided or that they have only “soft support” for a candidate and might change their minds. How the campaigns appeal to this group -- in which many may simply not vote -- could be very important. Gray's supporters in the poll are far more committed to their candidate.

    Finally, Fenty has to hope that a significant number of his voters weren’t caught up in the poll numbers – young voters with cell phones that pollsters have trouble reaching. Many young people don’t really know Gray. But they also tend not to vote, so it could be a wash.

    Other than banking on the popularity of school reforms led by Chancellor Michelle Rhee -- which Fenty believes will cut his way -- that’s about it for the sitting mayor.

    Gray has the opposite problem. He has to hope -- and this is amazing given his late start -- that he hasn’t peaked too soon.

    There may in fact be a majority of voters who simply don’t like Fenty. And Gray must not do anything in the next two weeks that would change that dynamic.

    Bottom line, Gray has moved from reluctant candidate last winter to front-runner this summer. Now, as he said on Monday, his ardent supporters have to carry him across the finish line -- if that line isn't blocked by the superior Fenty get-out-the-vote effort.

    • The election itself.

    As voting begins, the news media will be watching how voting is managed by elections officials. Never before have we had two weeks of active voting. Never before have we had unfettered absentee balloting. The new rules say you don’t have to have an excuse to request an absentee ballot.

    Monday’s voting went well. There were seats in the auditorium so voters, particularly elderly or infirm voters, did not have to stand outside in the heat while waiting to vote. Your Notebook took advantage of the day and also voted.

    Thousands of voters are expected to cast ballots before Election Day itself on Sept. 14. How all of these new voting rules play out could influence the election outcome as well as the city's image. Let’s hope it all goes well.