- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 2, 2014

Among a steady stream of voters who made their way to the Takoma Community Center to cast ballots on the final day of early voting was 68-year-old Ignacio Moreno, who said it was easy to decide who he would support in the D.C. mayoral race.

He voted for Muriel Bowser.

“She’s the Democratic candidate, and I am a Democrat. I always vote for Democrats,” Mr. Moreno said Saturday at his polling place in the ward Ms. Bowser represents on the D.C. Council.

That’s the type of dedicated party-line voting Ms. Bowser is counting on for a win over independents David A. Catania and Carol Schwartz on Tuesday.

Democrats make up 76 percent of registered voters in the District, with simple mathematics historically assuring the Democratic nominee an easy road to victory.

And yet an influx of independents on the city’s voter rolls, potential Election Day turnout and the question of how many voters will look beyond their party identification have added uncertainty to the race. It has the potential to be the closest general election for mayor in the four decades of home rule, with recent polls finding that Mr. Catania trails Ms. Bowser by anywhere from 3 to 17 percentage points.

Nominally an independent, Mr. Catania has tried to appeal to all political parties — especially disillusioned Democrats — with frequent blasts of the District’s entrenched political establishment. In campaign mailers, he’s seized on former four-term mayor Marion Barry’s support of Ms. Bowser as one such example of the political machine at work. And he’s equated a vote for the Ward 4 representative as a vote for her political mentor — former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, whom voters tossed out of office in 2010 for being aloof and disinterested. The former Republican regularly refers to himself as the “most progressive candidate” in the race.

Attorney Walt Cain is one Democrat won over by both Mr. Catania’s 17-year-record as an at-large member on the D.C. Council and his laserlike focus on detail.

“His knowledge of the mechanics of government impressed me,” the 32-year-old said after casting his ballot at the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in Ward 5. “I’m a registered Democrat, but I tend to look at who the candidate is. It’s a great thing that there has been a competitive general election.”

No non-Democrat has been elected mayor, and the closest general election for the office was separated by 14 points. That race was in 1994, when Republican Carol Schwartz was defeated by Mr. Barry, who sought a third term after being jailed in connection with his arrest for smoking crack cocaine.

Mrs. Schwartz, who served 16 years on the D.C. Council and is now an independent, consistently polled in third place in this year’s race.

Surveys show that around 15 percent of voters remained undecided heading into the final two weeks before the election. About 25,300 of the city’s 458,304 registered voters cast ballots during early voting.

Stephanie Beechem, a 27-year-old federal government employee who was voting in Ward 5 Saturday, said she cast her ballot for Ms. Bowser both in the primary and the general election to “have a strong Democratic woman of color lead the District.”

“It makes a lot of sense,” Ms. Beechem said, noting the demographics and party preference of the city.

Ms. Bowser beat current mayor Vincent C. Gray, who was plagued by a federal investigation into a shadow campaign that funded his last election, in the primary with a promise of a “fresh start.” But among the candidates, she appears the least likely to shake up the city establishment with promises to keep several high-ranking officials, including the police chief and schools chancellor in place.

The seven-year council member has sought to shore up support by appealing to the city’s Democratic base — touting an endorsement by President Obama and including a photo of them together on a series of campaign flyers and ads. She has also played up her roots in campaign speeches and debates, noting that she’s a fifth-generation Washingtonian.Ms. Bowser, often criticized for her thin legislative record and lack of a substantive plan, committed to participating in only four debates ahead of the general election, although she was a common fixture at the dozens organized ahead of the Democratic primary. The refusal to debate led to criticism she was ducking the other candidates, particularly Mr. Catania, though she held her own in the debates she did attend.

Some residents said they were still trying to learn more about her ahead of Election Day in order to decide who to support.

“Muriel remains still an unknown quantity,” said Brittany Benowitz, 37, an attorney who ventured to the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in Ward 5 Saturday not to vote, but to swim some laps.

Ms. Benowitz said she remains undecided in the mayoral race, finding none of the candidates progressive enough for her taste. She plans to read over their campaign platforms before Tuesday but noted that if she were to be swayed by Mr. Catania, it would be a first.

“If I vote for Catania, it would be the first time I’ve voted for a former Republican in my life,” she said.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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