Thies: Is Muriel Bowser Unbeatable?

On Saturday, D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser will officially launch a campaign to be mayor of the District of Columbia.

A little over a year ago, I had dinner with one of her top advisers. He said Bowser was “unbeatable.”

Bowser was first elected to the Council in 2007. She represents Ward 4, a northern slice of the District that includes a diverse group of residents both east and west of Rock Creek Park.

Bowser owes her first victory to Adrian Fenty. Her arrival to the Council was via a special election to fill the seat Fenty vacated when he was sworn in as mayor.

At the time, Fenty was as popular as any politician in the history of the District. He endorsed Bowser, his political machine embraced her, and she won the election.

In 2008 and 2012, Bowser was re-elected by landslide margins.

A significant number of Fenty strategists and backers are in her camp. Ask any of them why Fenty lost in 2010, and they will eventually get around to telling you, “If he had listened to me, he would still be mayor.”

They are probably right. If Fenty had listened to anyone other than himself, he would probably still be mayor.

Team Fenty is eager to retake the castle -- but not with Fenty as ruler. Since the day Mayor Vincent Gray took office, they've been planning for this moment. Bowser has always been the candidate.


Bowser’s advisers have done an excellent job preparing her. And Bowser has clearly worked hard to improve her game.

Of course, she still has critics and detractors. Some say she has not been a significant legislator. Others say she is too close to lobbyists and a handful of the sycophants who surrounded and tarnished Fenty.

These are issues Bowser will need to deal with.

But on paper, she's as close to the perfect candidate as can be found in the District today.

She is well received across black, white and Latino communities. She is young, but not inexperienced. She is a good public speaker who comes across as interested, caring and unpretentious. She is free from the baggage of scandal. She seems to be ready to put her shoulder to the wheel.

In fact, Bowser appears to have been physically training for the arduous task of running citywide.

Is she everything you liked about Adrian Fenty and none of the things you did not like? Pretty much.

Which brings us back to “unbeatable.”

Bowser’s quest to take the castle will be decided in a Democratic primary in April 2014.

In a one-on-one contest, Bowser would mop the floor with Councilmember Tommy Wells, who is currently exploring a campaign himself.

Councilmember Jack Evans is said to be considering a bid as well. Bowser would crush him head-to-head.

If Gray seeks re-election, he will be formidable. Underestimating him would be unwise. He has run citywide twice and decimated his opponents both times. And Bowser is largely unknown outside Ward 4.

Nonetheless, the math slightly favors Bowser: 80 percent of white voters supported Fenty in 2010. Most of that support is low-hanging fruit for Bowser. Only 20 percent of black voters supported Fenty in 2010.

Bowser can increase that number. Her family is from a part of town where Fenty lost badly. Roots matter. Also, she should have an easy time connecting with black women, a substantial percentage of the electorate.

The race could certainly feature more than two candidates. With so many unknown factors, there are many ways to slice it. But Bowser and Gray are the only candidates who come out on top.

Stopping Bowser may require destroying her. That is no easy task. Attacking a female candidate is risky. As well, an effective, prolonged barrage requires a lot of dirt. Is it there?

If Bowser remains scandal-free, if she can keep away the less desirable members of Team Fenty, if she is ready to work harder than she ever has, and if an unexpected “wow” candidate does not emerge...

Is she really unbeatable?

Most observers believed Fenty would be a shoo-in for a second term. No one is unbeatable.

Bowser, though, is an immediate front runner.

Chuck Thies is a political, communications and advocacy consultant. From 1998 to 2010 his portfolio included District of Columbia politics. Chuck has worked on national projects and internationally in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, China and Mexico. If you are daring, follow him on Twitter: @ChuckThies.

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