Poll shows D.C. Mayor Fenty getting more credit than support in primary race against Gray

Voters in D.C. cast ballots Tuesday in the closely watched Democratic primary race for mayor between Adrian Fenty and Vincent C. Gray.
By Nikita Stewart and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, August 28, 2010; 12:01 AM

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty is foundering in his reelection bid against his chief opponent, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, despite a widespread sense that the city is heading in the right direction, according to a new Washington Post poll.

With early voting beginning Monday in the Sept. 14 primary, Gray is clearly ahead, leading Fenty 49 to 36 percent among all Democratic voters surveyed. Gray's advantage swells to 17 points, 53 to 36 percent, among those most likely to vote in the primary.

Although most of those Democrats polled credit the mayor with a record of accomplishment and say he brought needed change to the District, many doubt his honesty, his willingness to listen to different points of view and his ability to understand their problems. The criticisms are especially deep-seated among African Americans, who are likely to make up a majority of primary voters.

( Photos: Battling for votes in the District. )

Nearly six in 10 black Democrats see Fenty as caring primarily about upper-income residents; more than four in 10 see him as disproportionately concerned about whites in the District. In predominantly black Wards 7 & 8, east of the Anacostia River, where Fenty carried 54 percent of the primary vote four years ago, just 14 percent of all Democratic voters there now back him against Gray.

Citywide, most black voters doubt Fenty's honesty and say he doesn't understand their problems. Four years ago, just 17 percent of African Americans expressed unfavorable views of Fenty; now, that number has leapt to 56 percent.

The poll results show not only a dramatic drop in support for the mayor, but also the steep climb he faces in the two weeks left before the primary. Despite a recent promise to be more inclusive and more attentive to residents, Fenty's last-minute appeal may have come too late to change the minds of voters.

The mayor appears to have lost considerable ground to Gray, who entered the race at the end of March and only recently started running television ads. Gray, 67, who has run on a theme of "One City," says he is better suited to overcome the city's racial and class divides. In the poll, Gray is broadly seen as honest, open to various viewpoints and empathetic, all areas of perceived weakness for Fenty. Overall, Democratic voters give Gray the edge when it comes to being an effective leader and divide about evenly on which of the two candidates has a clearer vision for the District's future.

2006 vs. 2010

Comparing the latest poll results with the results of Fenty's unprecedented citywide sweep in the 2006 primary shows a significant drop in support everywhere in the District except wards 2 and 3. In those largely white wards, Fenty would get 55 percent of the vote now, matching his showing four years ago.

Fenty's most dismal poll showing is among African Americans, with 19 percent of black Democrats saying they would support him, compared with 64 percent for Gray. Among white Democrats, Fenty leads Gray by 64 to 28 percent.

African Americans typically make up about six in 10 city Democrats, and this year, they account for 63 percent of the likely primary electorate, according to the poll, conducted by telephone Aug. 19 to 26. Even if the turnout was evenly split among blacks and whites, Gray would have an advantage because he scores higher among whites than Fenty does among blacks.

Gray's support is highest in Ward 7, on the city's east side, which he represented for two years before he was elected council chairman in 2006. There, 70 percent of Democrats say they prefer Gray, compared with 14 percent for the mayor. Gray holds a similar lead in neighboring Ward 8.

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