It started the day after Vincent C. Gray won the Democratic nomination to represent Ward 7 on the D.C. Council.
Instead of chasing after people, begging for votes, Gray suddenly found residents pursuing him, trying to schedule a meeting or nab him for an event. Some even wanted him to get right to work fixing public housing and towing abandoned cars.
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"I'd say, 'Well, I'm not even elected yet,' " said Gray, who faces Republican and D.C. Statehood Green Party candidates in Tuesday's general election. "But it's almost as if the general election doesn't exist in the District of Columbia. And it's ironic because, man, your council members have more impact on your daily life than either George Bush or John Kerry."
In the nation's capital, where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans nearly 10 to 1, the general election has long been a poor cousin to the Democratic primary.
This year is no exception. On Sept. 14, the candidates slugged it out. On Tuesday, the Democratic primary's victors are expected to prevail handily over their underfunded and largely unknown GOP and third-party opponents.
Kwame R. Brown, who won a tough, three-way primary for Harold Brazil's at-large council seat, is still campaigning hard. Since the primary, Brown has replaced many of his yard signs with placards that say "Thank you!" He also keeps an aggressive campaign schedule.
These days, when Brown starts shaking hands and asking for votes, most people just laugh, he said.
"People say, 'Oh, you already won,' "Brown said. "No, nothing's won till Tuesday. I can only sleep after Tuesday."
Which is not to say that Brown is tossing and turning. His opponents concede that Brown is likely to be the top vote-getter in a pick-two race for two at-large council seats. But Brown is taking nothing for granted, unlike some of his Democratic colleagues.
Former mayor Marion Barry, for instance, is so confident he will beat Republican Cardell Shelton for the Ward 8 seat that he took a three-week vacation. Barry said he expects to take 80 percent of the vote in the race against Shelton, who did not return calls.
Asked whether he had spent much time campaigning, Barry said, "Not a lot. Not a lot. This is my victory lap." Barry's campaign is going through the motions, planning a get-out-the-vote rally tonight at Rehoboth Baptist Church on Alabama Avenue SE and lining up workers to rally the faithful to the polls.
Gray, meanwhile, served yesterday as grand marshal of the Eastern High School homecoming parade. Asked about his opponents, Jerod Tolson (R) and Michele Tingling-Clemmons (D.C. Statehood Green), Gray said, "The numbers would suggest that the Democratic candidate is going to win."
The hottest races on the ballot other than the presidential contest are nonpartisan battles for two seats on the city school board.
About half the District's 275,000 voters will have a chance to elect a new school board member. In District 1, which covers Wards 1 and 2, Julie Mikuta chose not to seek reelection, saying she had become exasperated by the slow pace of school reform. Four candidates are vying to replace her: city employee Jeff Smith, lawyer Keenan Keller, former advisory neighborhood commissioner Eleanor Johnson and software engineer Christopher McKeon.
In District 2, which comprises Wards 3 and 4, Dwight E. Singleton, who has drawn fire for missing meetings, is seeking reelection. He faces six challengers, including parent advocate Hugh Allen, who came in second for the post four years ago. Other candidates are Federal City Council education director Victor Reinoso, learning-standards advocate Laura McGiffert Slover, pension law specialist Tom Dawson, federal employee David A. Jordan and former teacher Mai Abdul Rahman.
Elsewhere on the ballot, no Republicans or third party candidates bothered to challenge popular council member Adrian Fenty (D-Ward 4). In Ward 2, council member Jack Evans (D) faces Republican Jesse James Price Sr. and D.C. Statehood Green Party candidate Jay Houston Marx, who called his chances of winning "obviously remote."
"It's one-party rule in D.C.," said Marx, who said he thinks his campaign also has been hindered by lingering anger with former Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, whose campaign for the presidency four years ago was accused by Democrats of stealing precious votes from Democrat Al Gore.
Longtime Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) is expected to prevail over her relatively unknown opponent, Republican Michael Andrew Moore, the 25-year-old marketing director for Chef Geoff's restaurants. And shadow Rep. Ray Browne (D) faces D.C. Statehood Green Party candidate Adam Eidinger, who received less than 14 percent of the vote two years ago.
The only Republican expected to win in a local race is veteran council member Carol Schwartz, who faces two challengers for her at-large seat, which is reserved by law for a candidate who represents a minority party. Independent A.D. "Tony" Dominguez won less than 3 percent of the vote when he sought a citywide council seat two years ago. D.C. Statehood Green Party candidate Laurent Ross has knocked on more than 7,000 doors but acknowledges that his late start has made victory unlikely.
"Most people have made the assessment that I didn't have enough time to get any momentum going," Ross said.