- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2014

Contenders in the D.C. mayor’s race are scheduled to file financial statements Tuesday providing the best clues yet as to how competitive the election will be — and whether donors in the heavily Democratic city are tapped out after a bruising and expensive primary campaign.

With few public opinion polls, and no debates in the foreseeable future, the amount of money in the bank might serve as the best indicator of how level, or lopsided, the playing field is between Democrat Muriel Bowser and independent David A. Catania, political analysts say.

“Money is a good measure of a certain type of competitiveness,” said Paul S. Herrnson, executive director for the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut and a longtime D.C. political observer. “Candidates have to run for two kinds of campaigns: one for votes and another for resources.”

In the District, where 75 percent of voters are registered Democrats, primary elections routinely decide the mayor’s race. The closest general election for mayor in the city’s history was separated by 14 points, when Republican Carol Schwartz in 1994 was defeated by Marion Barry, who sought a third term in office after being jailed for smoking crack cocaine.

But with the entrance into the race by Mr. Catania, a seasoned politician who has served 17 years on the D.C. Council, the general election is expected to be more than a pro forma exercise.

The extension of the election cycle, though, stands to wear out donors. Both sides will ask for contributions after a Democratic primary in which roughly $5 million was raised and spent by the well-connected likes of Mayor Vincent C. Gray and four D.C. Council members.

“Everyone has been called a million times and been asked to give, and there is a certain fatigue,” said Chuck Thies, who managed Mr. Gray’s campaign. “If you are a regular donor, you got called by everyone.”

The contribution limit to any candidate for the D.C. mayoral race is $2,000 per donor, and the entire race — from the primary through the general election — is counted as one cycle.

“It does not reset,” said Wesley Williams, spokesman of the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance. “If you contribute the maximum leading up to the primary, you are done. You don’t have a clean slate.”

The limit most affects Ms. Bowser, who had to raise significant money to stay ahead during the primary race. During that stretch of the election, Ms. Bowser collected 339 individual donations of $2,000 for a total of $678,000 — close to half of the more than $1.3 million she raised throughout the primary race.

Many top-tier donors find other ways to stay involved in the campaign after reaching the limit, Bowser campaign manager Bo Shuff said.

“One of the nice things about people who have maxed out already is that you don’t have to encourage them to do much more. They do it on their own,” he said. “One of my maxed-out donation guys drove a van on Election Day.”

To rally supporters, Ms. Bowser’s campaign has organized a series of “unity” events meant to bring together Democrats who just a few months back were warring against her.

Former rivals Jack Evans, Tommy Wells and Vincent B. Orange joined Ms. Bowser at one such event last weekend. Ms. Bowser touted the motto “If Democrats vote, Democrats win.”

Donors to other candidates in the primary would be prime resources for Ms. Bowser, if she can persuade them. Mr. Catania also has made a play for disaffected Democrats by rolling out campaign signs featuring the slogan “Democrats for David.”

But Ms. Bowser’s decisive 12 percentage point win over Mr. Gray in the primary could turn a lot of heads.

“In D.C., everybody wants to kiss the ring,” said D.C. Watch founder and political watchdog Dorothy Brizill. “So I assume a lot of people who give Mr. Evans and Mr. Gray money will want to kiss the ring and give Ms. Bowser money.”

That support could prove crucial.

Mr. Catania, an openly gay former Republican who championed the city’s same-sex marriage bill, has appealed to the gay community at the national level and is expected to see a bump in his campaign coffers as a result. It remains to be seen whether Ms. Bowser, who was largely unknown prior to her mayoral bid, can capitalize on her status as the Democratic nominee to raise significant money from outside the city.

In addition, the D.C. mayor’s race takes place in a year in which campaigns nationwide will be competing for cash. Midterm elections will put every seat in the House of Representatives up for grabs, while Maryland chooses a governor and Virginia elects a U.S. senator.

While not getting into specific dollar figures, Ms. Bowser’s camp feels good about its showing.

“We’re happy with our pace. A lot of people are coming out in support of the council member,” Mr. Shuff said. “We’re going to have resources to pull off a competitive campaign.”

For Mr. Catania, the first reporting deadline will serve as a means for voters to evaluate his viability as a candidate, said veteran campaign adviser Doug Patton, who is working with Mr. Catania this round.

“People will look at what David has reported and say ‘Uh-oh, he’s serious’ or ‘Uh-oh, forget him,’” said Mr. Patton, who worked with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Mr. Gray. “If he’s over $300,000 or $350,000, I think that will be significant. I think that will play a role in how people perceive him.”

Campaign finance records show Mr. Catania transferred $115,000 from his exploratory committee into his campaign committee’s account in April after filing for election. In the past several days, his campaign has sent email blasts to supporters asking for help first to meet a $5,000 goal and after surpassing it in one day upping the goal to $15,000.

“For him, a strong fundraising showing is much more important,” Mr. Hernnson said.

Although it is important, money isn’t everything, Catania campaign manager Ben Young said, pointing to the 2010 election in which a heavily funded Mr. Fenty was trounced by Mr. Gray.

“That’s not a substitute for a record that people care about,” Mr. Young said, referring to the Catania campaign’s frequent criticism that Ms. Bowser’s record as a lawmaker is thin. “It’s not make-or-break, but I expect her to have a significant amount of money. But I think we’ll be where we need to be to win the race.”

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