How Bowser Won: By the Numbers
One perceptive observer of the D.C. political scene commented on the winner of the Democratic primary for mayor: “Muriel Bowser – most of the voters in Ward 2 and Ward 3 couldn’t pick her out of a police line-up.” This is not mean or vindictive. It’s the truth.
Bowser won because she became the “anti-Gray” candidate. She evolved into the clear alternative to the incumbent. Yes, she was known in her home ward, Ward 4. But in the wards with overwhelmingly white populations – Wards 1, 2 and 3 – she was no more than a name. A name that was not Vince Gray. That was good enough.
She piled up huge margins in those wards. In Ward 3, she received 7,836 votes, an astounding 64 percent of the vote. In Ward 2, she got 50 percent of the vote (3,396 votes). Next in line was Ward 2 councilmember Jack Evans, who has served for 23 years and got only 17 percent of the vote (1,190 votes). In Ward 1, Bowser got 45 percent of the vote (4,654 votes). Vince Gray did better there, but still got only 24 percent of the vote (2,396 votes).
Four years ago, Vince Gray won Ward 4. This time, he lost it by 14 percentage points. Gray did win Wards 5, 7 and 8. But the story there is reduction: in voter turnout and in his totals. Four years ago, Democratic turnout in Ward 5 was 39 percent; this time it was 22 percent. Four years ago, Ward 7 turnout was 36 percent; this time, it was 16 percent. Four years ago, Ward 8 turnout was 31 percent; this time, 11 percent. Even more important – the key factor – was the total vote Gray got in the wards he won.
In Ward 5 four years ago, Gray got 14,160 votes or 74 percent. This time, he got 5,221 votes or 47 percent. In Ward 7, the same story. Four years ago, he got 17,889 votes or 82 percent; this time, only 4,831 votes or 60 percent. Finally, in Ward 8: 12,993 votes or 82 percent four years ago; a mere 3,058 votes or 58 percent this time. (These figures do not include absentee or provisional ballots.)
Two major events propelled the vote to Bowser. The first was the March 10 indictment of “shadow campaign” fixer and financier Jeff Thompson. Gray was not indicted, but he was perceived to have been. Second, two polls and the early Washington Post endorsement of Bowser made it a two-person race.
Jack Evans, in my opinion, was by far the most experienced and qualified candidate. He never caught on. Tommy Wells hoped to parlay the clean ethical mantle. That did not work either. When Bowser, Evans and Wells were bunched in the early polls, Gray looked like the winner. Once Bowser broke out and started climbing in the polls, the momentum and the election went to her.
There is plenty of time before November to talk about Bowser versus Catania. I have plenty to say about each. I promise you it will be blunt, and I will predict the next chapter.
Mark Plotkin is a political analyst and contributor to the BBC on American politics.