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D.C. mayoral campaigns target racial divide

- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 12, 2010

Rivals Adrian M. Fenty and Vincent C. Gray haven't agreed on much in the months leading up to Tuesday's D.C. mayoral showdown, but last-ditch get-out-the-vote efforts of both campaigns underscore their common task ahead of the vote: Close the racial divide.

Mayor Fenty, who trails in the polls as he seeks a second term, urged Deputy Mayor Victor Reinoso, schools chief Michelle Rhee and about 100 other mostly white supporters at a downtown Washington rally on Saturday to sprint to the finish line.

Mr. Gray, the D.C. Council chairman who rallied supporters at a prominent black Baptist church on Saturday and attended several worship services on Sunday, told supporters a "sea of blue" is headed to victory.

Both candidates appeared Sunday at the hugely popular Adams Morgan Day Festival.

The two campaigns continue to push to register voters and boost turnout at this late date because the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics purged 93,773 voters' names from the rolls in June and implemented new voting procedures, supporters of both camps said.

Most of those names were registered Democrats, and the winner of the city's Democratic primary has always won the general election.

Fenty and Gray supporters were both trolling for votes in the city's Southeast quadrant, where Cora Masters Barry, a Gray supporter and wife of the former mayor, and Ron Moten, a staunch Fenty booster who has targeted younger voters, met vans and busloads of voters as they rolled up for early voting.

"The most powerful voice they have is the voice of the vote," Mrs. Barry said in an interview afterward. "I'm proud they're having their voices heard."

Mr. Moten reminded voters that Mr. Fenty has "delivered jobs" and "reformed schools."

Mr. Fenty was the presumptive favorite at the outset of the campaign in April, with a campaign war chest of more than $4 million. But Mr. Gray has steadily cut into the incumbent's advantage and polls now suggest that the challenger has a double-digit lead. The voters surveys also point to a yawning racial divide in the electorate, with Mr. Fenty dominating among white voters and Mr. Gray holding a big edge among black city residents.

Fenty and Gray supporters said regardless of the racial implications of the polls, victory will pivot on turnout and which campaign can get its supporters to the polls.

"There's no doubt that early voter turnout is going to be key for the Gray campaign," said campaign spokeswoman Traci Hughes. "We're proceeding as though we were behind in the polls. We're not making any assumptions."

The high-profile Mr. Moten, who has had live TV and Web debates with Mr. Barry and Gray strategist Mo Elleithee in recent days, discounted the polls, saying, "A lot of people were on vacation."

Two new D.C. procedures — early voting prior to the primaries and registering and voting on the actual day of the primaries — present unforeseen challenges for voters this election, said Phinis Jones, a political campaign veteran who helped to coordinate Mr. Fenty's support in the city's mostly black Ward 8.

"The wild card is the new early voting and same-day registration," he said.

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