Cross-posted at DCist.com
It's all said and done -- Vincent Orange won the April 26 At-Large Special Election and will be heading back to the D.C. Council. As usual, we've got some closing thoughts on the last D.C. election until, well, eleven months from now.
Orange Was One of the Few Known Candidates: The only public poll of the campaign pretty much called it -- Orange could win, if only because he was the best-known candidate in an under-publicized race that ended up attracting fewer than 10 percent of registered voters. The late March Clarus poll put Orange ahead citywide 28 percent to six percent each for Biddle and Mara, with the margin only growing amongst black voters. Needless to say, having run citywide in 2006 and 2010 and having served two terms on the D.C. Council made Orange one of the few recognizable names on the ballot.
No, Weaver Didn't Hurt Mara: On numbers alone, it would seem so. Considering that 1,120 votes currently separate Mara and Orange, it stands to reason that had Weaver dropped out, Mara could have picked up that difference in wards 2, 3 and 6, where Weaver was the second- or third-highest vote-getter. Comparisons to Ralph Nader have already been bandied about -- but they're not particularly accurate. Weaver and Mara may have been popular in the same parts of the city, but they weren't necessarily popular with the same people. Weaver was the progressive candidate that supported introducing a new six-tier tax system that would have the city's highest-earners paying more, Mara is a Republican who spoke out against any tax hikes at all. Sure, they agreed on other issues, like the need for ethics reform, but that one philosophical difference would easily be enough to put Weaver adherents off of voting for Mara. Sekou Biddle, though, is another matter. Both Biddle and Mara stood roughly on the same side of the tax debate, and both shared a similar commitment to education. (Biddle previously served on the State Board of Education; Mara currently serves on the same board.) Biddle took the second-highest number of votes in Ward 3 -- 1,920 to Mara's 3,825 -- and it stands to reason that those would have gone for Mara instead. (Mara admitted as much in an interview with Slate's Dave Weigel.) Conversely, had Mara dropped out, Biddle could have done much better.
Yes, Mara Hurt Himself: Mara was the sole Republican in the race, a political designation that helped him shore up his credentials as an independent reformer, but hurt him by linking his name to a brand that is particularly toxic in the District these days. For District residents that didn't follow the campaigns very closely, the mere sight of the "R" next to Mara's name may have been enough for them to vote for just about anyone else, especially considering the way congressional Republicans have been treating the city this year. (The Post found one willing to admit as much.) Add that to the District's continuing racial insecurities, and you've got not just a white guy running for office, but a white Republican. Mara picked up 563 votes in ward 5, 7 and 8 combined (Weaver got fewer than that, by comparison), while Orange got three times that figure in Ward 8 alone. Perhaps the D.C. GOP should drop the association to the national party and create a homegrown Independent Republican Party.
Biddle Was Liked by a Few People Everywhere, But Not a Lot Anywhere: Biddle may have been the worst off in the At-Large campaign. A bright progressive who was catapulted onto the D.C. Council through an appointment process that was more about exacting payback against Orange for his hard 2010 campaign against D.C. Council Chair Kwame Brown, Biddle barely had any time to enjoy the benefits of incumbency and mainstream support before the political bottom fell out from under him. He campaigned without much of a base of support to speak of, and his associations to Brown and Mayor Vince Gray -- not to mention the boneheaded challenge of Weaver's nominating petitions -- isolated potential progressive supporters. The election returns seem to bear this out: Biddle didn't win any one ward and lost his home base, Ward 4. To his credit, he had more crossover appeal than Mara or Weaver (or Orange), coming in second in every ward except 1 and 2. Those lots of second places didn't add up to a win, but they prove that Biddle can be competitive should he try again. (Orange vs. Biddle in April 2012, round 3 of their political battle, anyone?)
Lopez Learns Lessons: For Josh Lopez, this year's run for the At-Large seat is likely going to be but an audition for a more successful campaign down the road. He's 27, after all, and certainly not short on energy. He came in fifth amongst all candidates, trailing behind Orange, Biddle, Mara, and Weaver in most wards. That being said, Lopez performed consistently in each ward, unlike Orange, Weaver and Mara, whose votes were highly concentrated in certain parts of town. Next time, Lopez should build up more of a formal campaign structure instead of relying only on door-knocking, and he should certainly spend more of the money he raises.
We're Happy Mara and Dorothy Douglas Didn't Win: You know why? Because we're spared yet another Special Election to fill their seats on the State Board of Education. (We're kidding. Kind of.) The District seems to all democracied out for now, and at least now everyone has the chance to recharge their batteries for the April 2012 primaries.