In the four months since his drug arrest at the Vista Hotel, Mayor Marion Barry has suffered no significant erosion in his political base, while D.C. Council member John Ray has emerged as the candidate with the greatest potential to break from the pack of Democratic mayoral hopefuls.
A new Washington Post poll also shows that Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.), who in early March made a dramatic entry into the fight for the Democratic mayoral nomination, appears to have lost support in recent weeks as he concentrated on building an organization for his first serious electoral contest in nearly 20 years.
The Post survey of 760 self-described registered Democrats -- a snapshot of voter attitudes nearly four months before the Democrats' Sept. 11 mayoral primary -- suggested that the District's political picture continues to be unsettled, with none of the candidates enjoying insurmountable leads over their rivals.
The poll, conducted May 17 through 22, has a margin or sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The poll showed Barry, a three-term incumbent facing a trial in 10 days on perjury and drug charges, enjoying the support of 23 percent of the Democratic electorate. Ray, an at-large council member making his third bid for the District's highest office, was also supported by 23 percent of the voters, according to the poll.
Fauntroy, who is relinquishing the delegate's seat in Congress he has held since 1971, was supported by 10 percent of the voters, as was D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke.
Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) and longtime party leader Sharon Pratt Dixon were each supported by 7 percent of the voters, according to the Post survey.
Although it is far from certain whether he will be a candidate in either the primary or the November general election, Barry continues to be a powerful political presence in the city, according to the poll.
The intensity of the mayor's support easily outstrips that of any other candidate in the race. Eight out of 10 Barry supporters said they strongly back their candidate, the survey found.
However, the poll indicates that Barry would face a difficult time increasing his share of the vote beyond his 23 percent base. For instance, when asked which candidate currently would be their second choice for mayor, those interviewed placed Barry behind each of the five other challengers. Only 6 percent of all Democratic voters currently say Barry is their alternate choice, according to the poll.
Should Barry not run in the September primary, the Post poll found that Ray and Fauntroy would be the biggest beneficiaries.
With Barry out, the survey showed that Ray's share of the vote increased to 29 percent of those Democrats interviewed, while Fauntroy would get 16 percent, Clarke 12 percent and Dixon and Jarvis, 9 percent each. Nine percent said they were undecided, with the remaining 16 percent either favoring another candidate or not planning to vote.
Those numbers suggest that Ray has maintained and perhaps enhanced his popularity through the early stages of the primary campaign while Fauntroy's support may have sagged.
A Post survey in Feburary found that if Barry were not in the race, Fauntroy would get the vote of 27 percent of all registered Democrats interviewed -- about 10 points higher than his current level of support. Ray held 21 percent of the vote in that earlier poll, roughly the same as his current share.
However, Ray appears to have the greatest potential to increase his proportion of the overall vote: Twenty-two percent of those interviewed listed him as their second choice.
Fauntroy, who like Barry has maintained a political base for nearly two decades, also appears to have the potential to add substantially to his support. The strength of his support is second only to Barry's -- about half of his voters strongly back him -- and he is the second choice of 18 percent of those Democrats interviewed.
The other candidates showed varying degrees of support. About four out of 10 Clarke voters currently say they firmly support him, while about one-third of Jarvis' voters and one-fourth of Dixon's supporters say they strongly back their respective choices.
Ray's attractiveness to both black and white voters has produced an early base of support that closely mirrors the racial makeup of the city. Two-thirds of his supporters are black, while 27 percent are white, almost exactly the proportion of blacks and non-Latin whites in the District.
Both Barry and Fauntroy, in contrast, appear to appeal disproportionately to black voters: About nine out of 10 of their voters are black, according to the poll.
In interviews yesterday, nearly all of the Democrats said the primary election is very fluid, and could change dramatically in the weeks ahead depending on the outcome of the mayor's trial and the number of candidates who remain in the primary race.
Barry, clearly delighted by his showing in the poll despite the severe personal and legal crisis he faces, said the survey showed that he would be nearly invincible if he resumes campaigning after his trial.
"No other candidate has the rock-solid base I do," Barry said. "If I run again, I maintain I can win 35 to 40 percent of the vote. I'll take it from Ray and take it from Walter."
The mayor also ridiculed Ray for not showing a higher total in the poll, which was taken in the same week that Ray began a $250,000 round of television commercials, and Fauntroy for not mounting a more aggressive campaign.
"John Ray ought to be a little disturbed -- he spent all this money and not come past me," Barry said.
Ray, the fund-raising leader in the mayor's race, said he still will have to overcome the challenge of Barry's and Fauntroy's higher name recognition. "I still have to go out and work twice as hard as Barry and Fauntroy," Ray said. "People know who they are."
Fauntroy said he was encouraged by the poll results, attributing his showing to "the time it took to build an organization and the preoccupation of the public with the mayor's circumstances."