David Catania’s path to mayoralty would be much, much harder against Muriel Bowser. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

When The Washington Post last polled in January, it appeared as though this year might see a D.C. political unicorn: A closely competitive general election for mayor.

D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), then exploring a run for mayor, ran nearly neck and neck with then-presumptive Democratic nominee Vincent C. Gray — raising the prospect of a seven-month, bare-knuckle political brawl ahead of the Nov. 4 election.

New Post poll numbers show that scenario appearing less likely. Not because Catania’s viability against Gray, the incumbent, has slipped — it is now a dead heat, 41 percent apiece among registered voters. Rather, the prospect of a Gray-Catania matchup has become less likely, thanks to a surge from D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), who matches up much more favorably with Catania at this point in time.

The Post poll showed registered voters preferring Bowser over Catania, 56 percent to 23 percent, indicating that Democrats will have a much harder time voting for a non-Democrat if the party’s nominee isn’t Gray. That figure carries a margin of error of 4 points. Bowser has a double-digit lead over Catania across virtually all demographic and geographic groups tested.

A WRC-TV/Marist College poll also released Tuesday show a closer but still lopsided race between Bowser and Catania: 46 percent for Bowser versus 26 percent for Catania, with a 4.2 point margin of error.

Catania, a former Republican who has served on the council since 1997, officially launched his mayoral run earlier this month, days after prosecutors leveled new allegations against Gray. The irony is that, for Catania, the timing of the new “shadow campaign” revelations aired by businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson couldn’t have been worse: By airing them before the primary, prosecutors might have denied Catania the clear path to the mayoralty he desires.

Catania will remain in the race regardless of who wins the Democratic nomination, said Ben Young, his campaign manager. The Democratic race remains a “jump ball,” he said, and added that Bowser’s head-to-head numbers are “to be expected when you have someone who has been in the race for a year versus someone who has been in the race for two weeks.”

Should Bowser win, Young said, the general election will feature “a candidate with a substantive record of working on issues that matter to people versus a candidate who just wants to be mayor.”