February 28

Vincent Orange, Andy Shallal, Reta Jo Lewis and Carlos Allen might consider this question to be impertinent, but here goes: Is running for mayor of the District of Columbia the best use of their time?

Yes, they have the right to run. They earned places on the ballot, having filed the required paperwork to become candidates.

What’s more, city tax dollars aren’t at stake. The money they are spending is coming out of their pockets or from contributors.

Still, why do they remain in the race?

Mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. Council members Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans and Tommy Wells are, on the other hand, credible candidates.

Each goes into the Democratic primary with a history of community involvement and public service. They have records of tackling issues of concern to the community. (How well or poorly is another matter. That’s what elections help decide.) These four officials know something about the government they wish to lead; they have experience running for office and persuading voters.

Unless the surveys and various straw polls are way off the mark, Orange, Shallal, Lewis and Allen haven’t caught on with primary voters. Each of the four has about as much chance of being declared the winner of the April 1 Democratic primary as I have of finding a vegetarian great white shark.

The latest NBC4/WAMU/Washington Informer/Marist poll shows Shallal, Orange, Lewis and Allen at the bottom of the eight-candidate field: Shallal at 6 percent, followed by Orange at 4 percent, Lewis at 3 percent and Allen at 1 percent. Other polls, including that of The Post, also showed the four lagging behind.

To be clear, all candidates deserve credit for stepping forward and offering to serve. There is an element of sacrifice in running for office. Campaigning is hard work: All that studying. Getting up to speed on the issues. All those candidate forums. Canvassing, knocking on doors and working Metro stops. Asking, asking, always asking. Smiling, all that smiling.

But Election Day is only four weeks away. Early voting starts March 17. At this stage, the ground game comes into play. The campaign turns away from hanging posters and planting lawn signs to identifying supporters and getting them to the polls.

It’s time to face unpleasant truths, one of which is that Shallal, Lewis, Allen and Orange are not likely to win.

Thus the choice: Slog on — wasting energy, time and money — or exit gracefully. That’s a call each has to make.

There is also a more consequential impact on the mayoral primary campaign, should the bottom four decide to remain in the race.

Their appearances at mayoral forums and other campaign events draw time and attention from the major contenders. And the contest has entered a phase in which voters need to zero in on Gray, Bowser, Evans and Wells.

The top four warrant close attention.

Let’s start with Tommy Wells, the man with a message — or messages.

What’s that old saying? If you don’t like the weather in Washington, just wait a minute. So, too, with Wells. Since declaring for mayor, he has been billed as: chief scourge of lobbyists, contractors and robbers of government virtue; an at-risk kid’s best friend; a fan of car owners but also a lover of bike lanes and jobs to which you can walk; and the biggest foe Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe has ever known. That approach is too categorical; it lacks broad appeal. Wells has been selling himself short.

Jack Evans, by contrast, is marketing his strong suit: how to make things work. Jack knows stuff. He’s up on the government, the players and how deals get cut.

He’s also, after D.C. Council member Marion Barry, the most race-conscious elected official in town. Not racist, mind you. But Evans is oh-so-sensitive to the fact that he’s white. He seems to think being Caucasian stands in the way of him getting elected by acclamation. Jack, it’s not that you’re white. Sometimes you come across as a doofus. Get over it. You are far better than that.

Muriel Bowser is this year’s surprise. I’ve watched her in action over the years. She has never seemed more confident, sure-footed and directed. In a tension-filled Ward 4 community meeting this week, her leadership skills were on display. Little wonder she’s nipping at the mayor’s heels.

Speaking of which, Gray is trying to move on from the 2010 debacle and campaign on his record. It’s time, he says, to make progress. Pretty hard to do, however, with U.S. Attorney Ron Machen Jr. riding his back.

Round the turn they come, and down the stretch.

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