Opinion writer

Democrats voting in Tuesday’s D.C. primary have two questions to weigh: Which candidate should I support for mayor? And which candidate stands the best chance of winning in November? Until this year, the second question would have been moot because winning the party’s nomination in this overwhelmingly Democratic city has been tantamount to a general-election victory.

Not so this time around. The federal investigation and general voter dissatisfaction with Mayor Vincent Gray promise a different outcome.

The ranks of D.C. Democrats are badly splintered. Recent polls show that Gray is running neck and neck with Muriel Bowser, a council member who, less than a year ago, was virtually unknown outside of her Ward 4 district.

Consider Gray’s standing.

He is seeking renomination by a party in which, according to Post polling, more than six in 10 registered voters consider him not “honest and trustworthy” and more than a third of likely voters think he did something illegal; 63 percent of likely voters have said they would vote for another candidate.

Federal prosecutors have publicly asserted, but not formally charged, that Gray knew about an illegal, off-the-books effort to elect him in 2010.

His situation calls to mind what Napoleon might have thought at Waterloo: “I’ve had better days.”

Gray has inflicted much of the pain upon himself. As I have said before, Gray’s stonewalling on his role in the corrupt 2010 campaign is disqualifying. Of course, it’s also disturbing that the federal government has asserted that Gray was in on a criminal act but has not prosecuted him. Bring charges, not hints. That said, Gray should have known what to expect when he decided to seek reelection.

Angry voters and prowling prosecutors are only two of his problems. If victorious, Gray would face David Catania, an at-large council member who has won citywide races, in November.

Sure, most of the District’s 76,000 registered independents and 27,000 registered Republicans aren’t likely to vote in that election, as is true of most of the city’s 337,000 registered Democrats. Yet if only 30 percent of independents and Republicans cast ballots in the general election, that’s an additional 30,000 votes not expected to end up in Gray’s column. The bulk of those voters live in Wards 1, 2, 3 and 6, hardly Vince Gray territory.

Tuesday may be Gray’s last hurrah. After April 1, he faces a fractured party, aggressive feds and David Catania. It could all be downhill.

A Bowser primary victory, however, would be good news for Democrats. Polls suggest she would beat Catania (I) handily in a general election. Of course, Catania, who is not known for being warm and fuzzy, has yet to lift a finger toward the general election. And he’s organizing for an all-out try. But Bowser is aware of the threat. Responding to a question at a mayoral forum I moderated, she said that after the primary, she would devote time to unifying Democrats while reaching out to other voters.

If she makes it to the fall ballot, Bowser has to win over some skeptical Democrats. Still, she is not confronted with anything like the “No Way, Gray” crowd that dogs the incumbent.

Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) faces a different problem. If he gets past the primary (which the polls say is unlikely), he might make a race of it in November. A party stalwart, political mechanic and good fundraiser, Evans should be able to keep hard-core Democrats from bolting. But his candidacy is not likely to generate an enthusiastic Democratic turnout across the city. Georgetown, central Northwest and downtown are his stomping grounds. And he’s done himself no favors by carrying Gray’s water at mayoral forums.

Evans once told me that D.C. voters would elect Mickey Mouse before they would turn to a former Republican like Catania. There’s one way to find out if that’s true. But it’s not likely to be with Jack Evans.

Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) faces a similar fate, though it’s not for lack of trying.

His advocacy of green urban living and clean government make him the darling of the environmental-awareness folks and those supporting ethics in public service. So, too, his courtly manners. Yet the label “soft” seems to stick to him. Certainly his tenure as chairman of the council committee that oversees the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services did nothing to dispel that image.

Wells hardly comes across as a party loyalist, either. At the mayoral forum mentioned above, Wells said, when asked, that because of his differences with the D.C. Democratic State Committee, he didn’t know if he would support the party’s nominee in the general election.

That pretty much leaves it up to Muriel Bowser to carry her party’s banner in the fall.

That is, if D.C. Democrats really want one of their own to take the oath of office in January.

Otherwise, on Tuesday, pick a loser, blow the lid off Dems and laissez les bons temps rouler.

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