Two D.C. Council members will face off in an unusual contested general election for mayor in November, giving the candidates seven months to try to re-energize voters, who appeared apathetic and turned out in small numbers for Tuesday’s primary election.
Political observers caution that a bruising battle is likely.
“You cannot just assume because Ms. Bowser is the Democratic nominee that she will have a cakewalk through the November election,” said city politics watchdog and D.C. Watch founder Dorothy Brizill, who has been critical of both candidates.
Three-quarters of city voters are registered Democrats, but Ms. Bowser made a broad appeal in her post-primary remarks.
“We’re asking for every Democrat and everybody out there, independents, Republicans, to take a good hard look at our campaign, including Mayor Gray’s supporters,” she said. “We take no voters for granted.”
Mr. Catania, 46, is a white, gay, former Republican turned independent whose election would buck the city’s trend of electing only black Democrats as mayor since the inception of home rule in 1974. On Wednesday, he offered congratulations to Ms. Bowser.
“We just witnessed a primary focused on who should not be Mayor,” Mr. Catania said in a press release. “Today, we begin a discussion on who should be Mayor.”
It’s unclear how much the four years of scandal surrounding Mr. Gray contributed to voter apathy, but turnout Tuesday was low. Only 22 percent of registered Democrats, or 83,040 people, took part in the primary, according to the D.C. Board of Elections.
“That does suggest that there is a certain amount of weakness on the part of her candidacy,” said John White, a politics professor at Catholic University of America, noting that the election was mostly a referendum on Mr. Gray.
The mayor’s re-election bid, much like his term in office, was mired in accusations surrounding the federal investigation into a $668,000 off-the-books effort to support his 2010 mayoral campaign. Just weeks ahead of the primary, the businessman at the center of the investigation pleaded guilty. His admission that Mr. Gray was complicit in the scheme proved to much for the incumbent to keep his campaign afloat.