Mayor Vincent Gray and Councilmember Muriel Bowser are in a dead heat in the upcoming mayoral primary, according to a new poll by City Paper and WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi Show.
Bowser and Gray each garnered the support of 27 percent of likely Democratic primary voters, according to the poll, which was conducted March 13-16.
Campaign reps for both candidates said they aren't surprised by how tight the race has become. Previous polls by the Washington Post and NBC4 showed Gray with a several-point lead over Bowser.
The top two contenders are battling amid a crowded field of candidates, one of whom also showed double-digit support in the latest poll.
Councilmember Jack Evans has 13 percent of the vote in the poll, with Councilmember Tommy Wells at 9 percent (Loose Lips notes this is the first poll in which he's dropped below double digits) and Andy Shallal at 7 percent.
Three other candidates showed 2 percent or less, with 14 percent of voters still undecided, according to the poll.
"I think it shows what we thought was going to happen all the time; the race was going to narrow to two candidates, one that represents the status quo and the past [and] one that represents the future of D.C.," Bowser campaign manager Bo Shuff said Friday.
The poll is the first to be conducted since D.C. businessman Jeffrey Thompson told prosecutors in a plea deal that Gray knew about a shadow campaign that funneled more than $650,000 in illegal contributions to his 2010 run for mayor.
Gray has adamantly denied those claims.
His campaign manager, Chuck Thies, said Friday that the City Paper poll is reflecting a temporary negative reaction to Gray.
"Our base is unshakable," Thies said. "The mayor has been dragged over the coals by his political opponents, the media and other people who have agendas that are not in the best interest of District residents. His base has stayed with him."
Shuff, however, predicted that more voters will move away from Gray in the light of the allegations.
"Muriel said it early on: When two-thirds of the city wants a new mayor, they tend to get one," Shuff said. "Supporters of other candidates and some undecided voters and even some Gray supporters realize we need a fresh start in the mayor's office. We need to lift the cloud of uncertainty that surrounds this mayor in order to move forward."
Thies said Gray's campaign knew it could come to a photo finish.
"What you see in the City Paper Poll is a negative bounce... thanks to an uninformed and biased presentation of information by the U.S. attorney and his friends in the media," Thies said. "And we know that negative bounce will subside and our turnout efforts will get us across the finish line in first place.... But we always knew this race would be tight."
The automated phone poll was commissioned by Washington City Paper and WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi Show and conducted by by Public Policy Polling. It has a +/-3.3 percentage point margin of error.
The mayoral primary will be held April 1. Early voting began earlier this week.