D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate David Catania (I-At-Large) told reporters Monday night that an internal poll commissioned by his campaign last week shows he is trailing his main rival, Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), by just three points.
According to Catania, the poll of 1,000 D.C. voters, which was completed on Sept. 5, had a margin of error of 3.05 percent, indicating that he is in a statistical tie with Bowser. Bowser has been considered the frontrunner in the race since she defeated Mayor Vincent Gray in the city’s Democratic primary on April 1.
Independent mayoral candidate Carol Schwartz questioned the validity of the Catania poll, saying she learned from city residents supporting her that the Catania campaign conducted earlier polls that left her out, limiting respondents’ choices to Catania and Bowser.
Bowser campaign spokesperson Joaquin McPeek said the Bowser campaign would have no comment on the Catania poll other than to say, “The only poll that counts is the one on Nov. 4.”
A Washington Post poll released March 25 showed Bowser ahead of Catania in a potential two-way race by a margin of 56 percent to 23 percent, with 21 percent of respondents saying they were undecided.
That same week WRC-TV and Marist College released a separate poll showing Bowser ahead of Catania by a margin of 46 percent to 26 percent, with 28 percent of those polled saying they were undecided.
“I’m delighted we’ve dramatically narrowed this gap and I look forward to a robust campaign for the final eight weeks,” Catania told reporters following a Sept. 8 mayoral campaign forum sponsored by the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. Bowser did not attend the forum.
“And the reason we’ve narrowed this gap is because I’ve been out every single day and every single night talking to voters,” Catania said. “And I think people are responding to a message that is serious about issues where a person presents experience, vision and values that people are looking for.”
The other mayoral candidates attending the forum were Schwartz, the former Republican D.C. Council member currently running as an independent; Libertarian Party candidate Bruce Majors; and Statehood Green Party candidate Faith.
All four candidates expressed strong support for the Capitol Hill group’s advocacy for arts education for children and adults. Catania and Schwartz told of their own advocacy for programs to improve the city’s public schools.
Majors, who, like Catania, is an out gay man, raised the issue of anti-LGBT bullying in schools, saying fewer school system restrictions on which schools young people can attend would help parents find a more suitable school for their gay kids who encounter bullying.
Organizers of the forum said Bowser was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict.
When asked after the forum how Schwartz did in his campaign poll, Catania declined to provide a number, saying only that she finished “multiples” behind him and Bowser.
Catania said he and his campaign decided to disclose the poll number showing that he had narrowed Bowser’s lead to just 3 percentage points at a reception he hosted Monday night, prior to the Capitol Hill forum, for his campaign volunteers at Blackjack restaurant and bar on 14th Street, N.W.
Gay Democratic activist John Klenert, a Catania supporter, said close to 200 Catania volunteers attended the event.
“We were thrilled to death to hear the poll numbers that David revealed,” Klenert said.
Schwartz called the Catania campaign’s decision to release just a single figure from a reported poll and then claim that she was far behind a ploy to “manipulate the media” into reporting information that could not be verified. She called on Catania to release the entire poll to the public or the news media and urged the media “not to fall for this.”
Christopher Arterton, a professor of political management at George Washington University and a recognized expert in public opinion polling in election campaigns, said the validity of the Catania poll – or any poll in which the full set of questions and survey data isn’t released – could not be determined.
“It may well be valid, but it might not,” he said. “And we won’t know until more information is released.”
Arterton added, “Through sample construction, through questionnaire wording, and through survey design you can produce almost any result you want.”
Catania told reporters after the mayoral forum on Monday that he used a reputable polling firm called Clarity Campaign Labs, the same polling firm he said has been used by U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for their campaigns. Spokespersons for Booker and Warren couldn’t immediately be reached on Tuesday to confirm whether the two senators retained the services of that firm.
The Washington Post and other local news media outlets were expected to release their own poll findings sometime in the next few weeks. If they show results similar to Catania’s poll it would indicate that Catania has a chance of breaking the city’s 40-year history of electing only Democrats to the position of D.C. mayor.
A victory by Catania would also make him the city’s first out gay mayor.
“I am always wary of internal polls when the details aren’t released,” said gay Democratic activist and Bowser supporter Peter Rosenstein. “I am sure David made up ground from the 20 to 30 points he was behind when the last public polls were released but am also sure he won’t make up enough ground to win,” Rosenstein said.