Fenty, Cropp and the Road to the Finish Line
With seven weeks to go before the D.C. mayoral primary, the new Washington Post poll reflects an electorate that has focused its view on the two frontrunners and will now try to suss out whether to go with young, energetic and pragmatic or older, experienced and cautious.
If you think of the District as an old house that needs a whole mess of repairs, the question is whether you want Adrian Fenty, the new handyman who has made a strong impression by speeding city services to frustrated citizens, but isn't exactly an expert on the bigger picture? Or do you choose Linda Cropp, the contractor who has been running her business for decades and knows the ins and outs of the bureaucracy, but doesn't exactly have a stellar record of making things work?
The Post poll showed that the other three Democrats in the race for mayor have not made enough of an impression to break through. Will Marie Johns, Michael Brown or Vincent Orange drop out of the race, fade from sight, or make one last stab at pushing their way into the elite level with the frontrunning duo?
Orange, whose quixotic journey in this campaign has never made much sense to the city's political strategists, seems determined to stay in till the bitter end. He is giving up his Ward 5 council seat, so he might as well stick with this.
Johns, who keeps sensing that she's on the verge of a breakthrough, does seem to be quite a few voters' second choice. I keep hearing people say they might consider punching the ballot card for her if only they thought she had a chance. But she hasn't found the money or the grassroots support needed to propel herself to the next level. Staffers at the frontrunning campaigns say there is increasing pressure on Johns to bow out, but neither the Fenty folks nor the Cropp crew seem terribly confident about where Johns' votes would go. Check out the full data from the Post poll and there's a strong indication that Cropp fares better with the other candidates staying in the race. Fenty opens a wider lead in a straight-on, head to head battle against Cropp. That implies that many Johns, Brown and Orange voters are looking for a new direction and associate Cropp with the same old power elite that ran the District in the Barry era.
The closest this campaign has seen to an heir to Marion Barry's bedrock support is Michael Brown, the best orator of the bunch, whose speeches often accentuate the gap between rich and poor and black and white in the District. Brown's rhetoric rings with references to "us," meaning black Washingtonians, vs. "them," meaning the whites, newcomers and Mayor Williams' focus on development. But while Brown routinely wins the most effusive responses, especially at the many events he organizes around young people, that has not translated into electoral support, and there is increasing talk that he faces pressure even from some of his family and friends to drop out. Here, too, that seems unlikely, given that Brown has carved out his own niche as the candidate who focuses the most attention on what Barry always called "the last, the least and the lost."
What to watch for the rest of the way: Both Cropp and Fenty are sitting on record-level campaign chests--each has raised more than $1.7 million, which means that starting in late August, we're going to see TV campaigns of an intensity that the District has never before seen. The Cropp message will be one of experience and proven leadership, along with an increasingly overt response to Fenty's popularity, focusing on the idea that he is too young, too brash and too unschooled in the details of municipal finance, fighting crime and leading the council. The Fenty approach will be to paint Cropp as a symbol of the failed past while presenting Fenty as a pragmatic outsider who gets things done and has more energy than the rest of the council put together.
A big chunk of that money will go into organizing the kind of get out the vote machinery that the District hasn't seen since Barry's glory days. The perennial problem of persuading people that there really is an election coming up just a week after Labor Day always makes predicting election results tricky here. Both the Fenty and Cropp camps are putting big resources into getting voters to the polls; Cropp has an advantage here in her heavy union and party activist support. Fenty counters with the expectation that his years of zealous attention to constituent service matters will bear fruit in the form of voter loyalty and word of mouth.
Some campaign milestones to watch for in the coming days:
-- Fenty and Johns will square off in a one-on-one debate, the result of Johns' challenge, a bit of a coup for her when Fenty, caught offguard on a radio show, politely agreed to take part.
--The Washington Post endorsement, often a factor especially in white parts of town, is likely to come later in August. Cropp's campaign is hoping for the kind of concerted, repeated endorsement campaign that the newspaper's editorial page has mounted in some past mayoral races.
--Cropp said yesterday that while Mayor Williams has not yet begun to campaign for her, he has promised to do so starting in August. Will that help or hurt? Depends on what parts of town he goes to.
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