Jonetta Rose Barras: A November D.C. election with meaning

Jonetta Rose Barras: A November D.C. election with meaning

April 15, 2012 — 7:54 PM

Jonetta Rose

Barras, The Examiner

It used to be that the winners in D.C.’s Democratic Primary were immediately crowned as presumed office holders; the November General Election was perfunctory. But, could this be the year when that tradition dies?

When the D.C. Council moved the city’s primary they paved the road to a possible victory for a third party or independent candidate. Little known politicos now have more time to present themselves to voters and shake up things.

This year, competitive Ward 7, Ward 8 and at-large council races portend an exciting summer and an election no one should take for granted.

Consider, for example, that Democratic nominee and Ward 7 Councilwoman Yvette Alexander received only 3,383 votes. The combined total of 4,559 votes cast for her opponents in that race far exceed those received by the incumbent. There is palpable dissatisfaction — which won’t be divided as it was in the primary.

Alexander will face newly minted Republican Ron Moten, who received a meager 61 votes. That small number doesn’t mean he can’t attract sufficient support to unseat Alexander. Moten is a force; he has made himself well known east of the Anacostia River.

If the folks in Ward 8 are smart, they’ll draft a candidate with political muscle and the ability to quickly build a finely tuned machine. As of February 29, there were nearly 54,000 registered voters in that area. But in the primary, Marion Barry won with 4,574 votes. There is an untapped reservoir of Democrats plus 7,834 independents who couldn’t vote in the primary. Could they be galvanized to change that community’s fortunes?

Councilman Vincent Orange can breathe easy — for a minute. The unofficial count indicates he received 23,719 votes to Sekou Biddle’s, 21,973. But that doesn’t mean the deal is sealed. In fact, as with Alexander, more people voted for Orange’s opponents than for him.

In November, voters will choose two candidates out of the five expected to be on the ballot. There is still time for even more to enter the race, however. The top two vote getters — one of which cannot be a Democrat — will claim the at-large council seats.

Orange’s win spells trouble for incumbent Michael Brown, who, four years ago, presented himself as an independent Democrat. Folks now know there is nothing independent about his politics — except when it comes to smoothing the way for gaming interests. Thankfully, his push for Internet gambling was defeated.

So-called progressives, who lined up behind Biddle and Peter Shapiro, aren’t going to walk away quietly. They are determined to change the dynamics in the legislature. They likely will target Brown, seeing him as the weaker of the incumbents. Expect them to throw their support to independent David Grosso — although Republican Mary Brooks Beatty shouldn’t be overlooked.

Only 64,361 people voted earlier this month. But in the General Election, nearly 80,000 independents unable to participate in the primaries will cast be able to ballots. At 17.34 percent of the total number of registered voters, they — not Republicans — are the second largest political block.

Stay tuned.

Jonetta Rose Barras’s column appears on Monday and Wednesday. She can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

Jeffrey Thompson steps down from Chartered Health Plan

Posted at 03:48 PM ET, 04/16/2012

Jeffrey Thompson steps down from Chartered Health Plan

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post

Thompson’s withdrawal from his health care firm comes six weeks after federal raids of his home and offices. (C-SPAN) The District businessman at the center of a federal investigation into campaign finance has stepped down from the leadership of his health-care firm, according to a statement from the company.

Jeffrey E. Thompson, 56, resigned Friday from the board of D.C. Chartered Health Plan, which holds a lucrative city contract to manage health care for low-income District residents. That contract, worth as much as $322 million yearly, is the city’s largest and accounts for nearly all of Chartered’s business.

David D. Wolf, a former executive vice president of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, is replacing Thompson as chairman, the company said.

Thompson and his intersecting political and business interests have been under a microscope since March 2, when federal agents raided his home and offices. His name was later featured on subpoenas delivered to the campaigns of several D.C. Council members.

Thompson stepped down last month from the board of Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio & Associates, the accounting firm he established nearly three decades ago; partner Ralph Bazilio assumed Thompson’s former roles as chairman and chief executive. Thompson held no executive role at Chartered.

Thompson’s attorney, Brendan V. Sullivan Jr., has declined to comment on the investigation and other aspects of his client’s dealings.

Chartered has been under Thompson’s control since 2000, when he purchased the struggling firm at a bankruptcy sale. In the ensuing years, the company turned itself around and grew to become the city’s dominant health-care contractor. According to Chartered’s most recent regulatory filings, the company now handles the health care of more than 110,000 city residents.

Karen Dale, a spokesman for Chartered, said there have been no changes in the company’s ownership “at this time.”

Thompson notified the company’s board and management of his decision to step down Friday, Dale said, but gave no reason for doing so. The remaining board members voted over the weekend to install Wolf as chairman, she added.

“We’re delighted to have someone of Mr. Wolf’s caliber coming on board,” she said.

By Mike DeBonis | 03:48 PM ET, 04/16/2012

In final vote, Orange beats Biddle in at-large Democratic primary

In final vote, Orange beats Biddle in at-large Democratic primary

By Tim Craig, Saturday, April 14, 7:48 PM

D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange was the winner of the April 3 at-large Democratic primary after a final vote count Friday added to his lead over challenger Sekou Biddle.

In a race that had been dominated by the ethics debate, Orange emerged with a narrow 543-vote lead 10 days ago over Biddle, a former council member who was trying to return to a job Orange snatched away from him in a special election last April.

But after the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics counted absentee and provisional ballots Friday, Orange surged to a 1,746-vote lead. Orange won the absentee and provisional ballots by more than a 2-to-1 ratio, and Biddle conceded the race Friday evening.

“It’s good we are going to put this behind us and move forward,” Orange said Friday. “It’s good to be the Democratic nominee and push forward the Democratic agenda.”

Orange’s victory means the five D.C. Council members up for election in the primary won their races, a signal that city voters were relatively unfazed by the ongoing federal investigations into city political campaigns.

In the final weeks of the campaign, candidates and elected officials were jolted by news that the FBI and the IRS raided the home and office of one of the city’s biggest political donors, contractor Jeffrey E. Thompson.

Thompson and his companies have donated at least $100,000 in the past decade to Orange, a former Ward 5 council member and unsuccessful candidate for mayor and council chairman.

Orange admitted that Thompson had also raised $26,000 in “suspicious” money orders and cashier’s checks for his 2011 council campaign.

Biddle hammered Orange over ethics, but the 54-year-old council member denied any wrongdoing.

“I never had an ethics problem,” said Orange, who noted that he wants to ban second salaries for council members.

The at-large race also featured former Prince George’s County Council member Peter Shapiro and activist E. Gail Anderson Holness, and some Biddle supporters have accused them of splitting the opposition vote and handing the contest to Orange.

After the counting of absentee and provisional ballots, Orange received 40.4 percent of the vote to Biddle’s 37.4 percent. Shapiro finished with about 11 percent, and Holness took 7.4 percent.

Although Biddle congratulated Orange “on a hard-fought race,” he noted that the three challengers in the race had won a combined majority of the vote.

“What we saw was significant numbers voting for candidates other than the incumbent,” Biddle said. “People are saying pretty clearly with their votes that they want and need something they have not been getting.”

The results revealed a highly polarized electorate, mirroring the split between majority-white and majority-black neighborhoods that surfaced in the 2010 Democratic mayoral primary.

In wealthy Ward 3 in Upper Northwest, Orange received just under 7 percent of the vote. But Orange dominated east of the Anacostia River, winning 63 percent of the vote in wards 7 and 8.

In addition to Orange’s victory, Democratic council members Muriel Bowser (Ward 4), Yvette M. Alexander (Ward 7) and Marion Barry (Ward 8) also won their primaries. Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) ran unopposed, as did Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and shadow representative candidate Nate Bennett-Fleming.

The city’s ceremonial shadow senator position was also up for grabs, and incumbent Michael D. Brown won that race.

Barry, Bowser and Evans are running unopposed in the November general election. Alexander will face Republican Ronald Moten, former head of Peace­oholics and an ally of former mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D).

Orange will appear on the November ballot with council member Michael A. Brown (I-At large,; Republican Mary Brooks Beatty, a former ward 6 ANC commissioner; Independent David Grosso, a lawyer and activist from Northeast; and lawyer Ann C. Wilcox, the D.C. Statehood Green Party nominee.

The two at-large candidates with the most votes will win, but one must be a non-Democrat.

Five Lessons From D.C.’s Elections (Plus One Bonus Lesson)

Five Lessons From D.C.’s Elections (Plus One Bonus Lesson)
Posted by Alan Suderman on Apr. 11, 2012 at 6:08 pm, Washington City Paper

The mood at Vincent Orange’s house on election night last week sounds like it was pretty tense.

As election returns trickled in, Orange and challenger Sekou Biddle exchanged small leads. With nearly 80 percent of precincts reporting, Orange was down about 1,000 votes. At that point, Orange later told supporters at his almost-victory party, “the Internet went down in the house, we ran to the office” where he and his two sons furiously started crunching numbers on the uncounted precincts.

Orange says a close look at what votes were still left showed most of them would go his way. “We got this,” he and his sons started saying. And when the final tally came in, “we just went crazy.”

“It was just a great moment for us that we will always share. Just never give up, never give up,” a relieved-looking Orange told the San Antonio Grill that night.

Orange isn’t the official winner yet—there are absentee and provisional ballots left to count, which will be done Friday—but he’s the favorite to prevail in one of the closest squeakers the District has seen in a long time. The moral of Orange’s almost victory isn’t an after school special-esque takeaway on the importance of perseverance, though, no matter what VO says. Instead, here are LL’s 5 lessons from Tuesday’s results:

  • Lesson 1: A lot of voters are pissed.

Forget what you may have read in the paper of record saying the District’s year of scandals “had so little practical impact at the polls.” Sure, all the incumbents besides Orange won easily. But the fact that the hapless Biddle came so close (and yes, he could still technically pull this off), propelled by angry voters looking to throw the bums—or more specifically, Orange—out is nothing short of a small miracle.

Orange has not been accused of any wrongdoing, nor is there any indication that he’s under federal investigation like Mayor Vince Gray and D.C. Council Chairman Kwame “Fully Loaded” Brown. But his close connections to Jeff Thompson, the Medicaid contractor whose home and offices were raided by the feds a month before the election, didn’t help him this spring.

Weeks before the election, Orange was forced by media pressure to release a batch of money order donations linked to Thompson with sequential serial numbers and similar handwriting. Even Orange, who has received more than $100,000 from Thompson and his network of donors, now says the money orders are “suspicious.”

The Thompson connection hurt Orange enough to let Biddle’s underfunded, disorganized effort make things close. Consider the deficits Biddle faced. In last year’s special election, Orange outspent Biddle $280,000 to $200,000. This year, the most recent campaign finance forms show Orange raising nearly $210,000 to Biddle’s $90,000.

Last year, Biddle also enjoyed strong union support, including mailers and poll workers. This year, Biddle was endorsed by the hotel workers’ union, but got significantly less legwork from the group. The reason, says one union official, is Biddle’s mess of a campaign. “Sekou never managed to find someone who was a good fit for the campaign and who knew how to run a solid operation.” says the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the race.

Biddle’s supporters were dismayed when he hired Vicky Wilcher to be his campaign manager. A former head of the D.C. Republican Party who also worked for Orange, Wilcher was arrested last year after mistakenly trying to bring a gun into the District’s offices at One Judiciary Square. Biddle and Wilcher parted ways early, but some of his supporters say her hiring in the first place was evidence of a certain level of dysfunction that persisted throughout the campaign.

One progressive city activist, who works in District government and asked not to be named, says Biddle had “multiple” meetings with supporters who were concerned that his campaign lacked direction and focus.

Some Biddle supporters also fault him for relying too heavily on the endorsement of the Washington Post, which Biddle certainly did try to milk for all it was worth (and more). You may have also noticed that Biddle was also endorsed by LL’s editors at Washington City Paper, not that that helped him any

Biddle says he’s already proved plenty of naysayers wrong by running a competitive campaign on a shoestring budget. He adds that his campaign was “extremely disciplined” with the limited resources it had.

Another problem? A charm deficit. Biddle has many positive qualities, but political star power isn’t one of them. He just doesn’t inspire supporters the way some pols can.

As evidence, look no further than the slightly disgruntled group of progressives who backed Peter Shapiro in the race. Shapiro, whose most recent political gig was as a councilmember in Prince George’s County, for crying out loud, won the endorsement of the influential blog Greater Greater Washington and a vocal group of activists. In the end, Shapiro only won 10 percent of the vote. But Biddle’s inability to attract and mobilize a constituency that was as eager as anyone to vote Orange out shows what a weak candidate he was.

“To say he’s only 543 votes out is pretty impressive,” says the city-employed activist.

Indeed it is, and woe to any politician who doesn’t understand Biddle’s strong showing.

  • Lesson 2: It’s better to be lucky than good.

Of course, not all of Biddle’s supporters agree that he ran a crummy campaign. Documentary filmmaker Aviva Kempner, a Biddle backer, says blame for an Orange victory would lie with Shapiro for not dropping out: “Sekou’s campaign was not the problem.”

To say some Biddle supporters are ticked off at Shapiro would be an understatement. Kempner alternated between calling him the Ralph Nader and the Newt Gingrich of D.C. politics (though LL notes that Gingrich isn’t exactly playing the spoiler in the GOP primaries—the District’s iteration of which, by the way, Mitt Romney won handily last week).

Shapiro, whose quixotic bid attracted support from former Orange campaign workers like Andi Pringle and Harold Gist, has ardently denied spoiling anything. But almost all of his votes came from the same wards where Biddle did well.

So it was a lucky break for Orange that Shapiro decided to run, and even luckier still considering the same thing happened last year. In the special election that made him an incumbent, Orange benefited from the fact that four candidates—Biddle, Republican Pat Mara, Bryan Weaver, and Josh Lopez—were all competing against each other for similar bases, while Orange had the mostly African-American voters in Wards 5, 7, and 8 almost all to himself.

Also lucky: Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander, who won with 42 percent of the vote. Her two main opponents split 44 percent.

  • Lesson 3: Race matters, even if you pretend it doesn’t.

Compare maps of last Tuesday’s election results and the District’s demographics, and you might think you’re looking at the same map. Predominantly white precincts voted overwhelmingly for Biddle; predominantly black areas voted overwhelmingly for Orange. The results mirror the 2010 mayor’s race.

Yet neither candidate appeared willing to acknowledge the obvious. On election night, Orange told his supporters: “Let’s not break this thing down…This is about us coming together as a people. This is about all the wards.”

And last week Biddle said on the Kojo Nnamdi Show that there may be a racial divide in the city, but he didn’t know for sure, because “I’m not actually interviewing each individual voter to find out who they vote for.”

A full explanation of the District’s racial divide in the voting booth is the stuff of Ph.D. theses, but it’s fair to say African-American voters tend to be more skeptical about claims of wrongdoing by black candidates.

“All of them—the man sets you up,” an Orange voter told the Post on election day. “They check you as soon as you get there.”

  • Lesson 4: Money doesn’t vote.

In 2010, Adrian Fenty showed you can raise $5 million and still lose badly. This year, shadow Senate candidate and ex-con Pete Ross repeated the lesson, spending $200,000 of his own money to get 25 percent of the vote. Total cost to Ross? If he wound up spending all of that money, then nearly $15 per vote. At that rate, he should have just offered to buy lobster rolls for anyone who backed him; it wouldn’t have cost him much more.

  • Lesson 5: Ward 4 is king/queen maker.

As Ward 4 goes, so goes the rest of the city. In the at-large race, the ward—Biddle’s home—ended in a virtual tie between Orange and Biddle, much like the result citywide. In the 2010 mayoral race, the ward went big for Gray (though Fenty lived there) and helped assure his victory. Why is Ward 4 so powerful? Voters there turn out more reliably than elsewhere. In last Tuesday’s at-large race, Ward 4 had 10,758 votes, accounting for more than 20 percent of the total ballots cast, though it only has about 14 percent of the city’s registered Democratic voters.

All of this is good news for Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser, who won reelection with 65 percent of the vote last week. Bowser’s name is on the short list of potential candidates for higher office, either in 2014 or if the feds create a vacancy sometime sooner. If she does run, she’ll have a big base to start with.

The mathematics of Vincent Orange vs. Sekou Biddle

Posted at 03:37 PM ET, 04/04/2012

The mathematics of Vincent Orange vs. Sekou Biddle

By Mike DeBonis

Absentee ballots are likely to cut into Orange’s lead, but not completely. (Sarah L. Voisin – The Washington Post) UPDATED 6:50 P.M.

The Democratic primary race for at-large D.C. Council remains too close to call with 543 votes — or 1.1 percent of the Election Day and early-voting ballots — separating incumbent Vincent B. Orange from challenger Sekou Biddle.

But according to the latest figures available, the margin appears large enough that the ballots remaining to be counted are unlikely to allow Biddle to overcome Orange’s lead.

The Board of Elections and Ethics has not released the number of outstanding curbside and provisional ballots — which include, for instance, voters who took advantage of same-day registration and voters who moved and had to register a change of address. Some preliminary figures should be released later today.

But up-to-date absentee ballot figures provided by the board show the total number of Democratic absentee ballots issued at 3,348. That includes 32 “emergency” absentee Democratic ballots issued Tuesday, mostly to residents of the St. Mary’s Court senior housing complex in Foggy Bottom.

However, 147 Democratic absentee ballots have already been rejected for various reasons, including that they were spoiled or returned undeliverable.

The board had received absentee ballots from 1,554 Democrats through Tuesday, leaving 1,647 at large.

How could this affect the race? In the aggregate, more absentee ballots have been sent to and returned from Biddle-friendly precincts.

By taking the vote percentages Biddle and Orange received in each precinct, then applying those to the number of Democratic absentee ballots sent to and received from each precinct, one can estimate what the absentee vote margin might be.

By my calculations — accounting for the rejected ballots and applying the same 3.02 percent blank-ballot rate seen in the Election Day results — Biddle can expect to close the margin with absentee votes, but not completely.

With the 1,554 votes already accepted by the board, Biddle can expect to improve his margin by about 84 votes. Should all 3,201 potential absentee votes be accepted, he can expect to pick up as many as 420 votes, given the geography of the ballots.

But there are caveats galore here. First, there’s no guarantee that the Election Day vote percentages will apply to the absentee vote. Second, there’s no way that all of the outstanding ballots will be returned by April 13; typically only half to three quarters of absentee ballots issued are postmarked by Election Day and received in time to be counted.

What Biddle can legitimately hope for is that the uncounted votes close the margin enough to trigger an automatic recount — provided for in city regulations if “certified election results show a margin of victory for a candidate that is less than one percent (1%) of the total votes cast for that office” — and that the recount turns up some sort of anomaly that breaks in his favor.

UPDATE, 6:50 P.M.: The board has thus far identified 3,867 provisional and curbside ballots. These are much rougher figures, offered on a ward-by-ward, not precinct-by-precinct analysis.

That said, these ballots are spread more evenly across the city than the absentees, meaning they more closely match the Election Day turnout. Applying the same analysis above but on a ward-by-ward basis, Orange can expect to add about 12 votes to his margin if all 3,867 are counted.

But they won’t be: Besides same-day registration and change-of-address ballots, a good number of the provisionals are likely to be change-of-party ballots — prohibited in the city’s closed primary system.

By Mike DeBonis | 03:37 PM ET, 04/04/2012

Unofficial Election Results

Based on unofficial results from the DC Board of Elections and Ethics, there appear to be few surprises in the District’s Democratic primary. The exception is the very tight race between incumbent At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange and challenger Sekou Biddle…

Unofficial Election Results
District of Columbia Primary Election – April 3, 2012

Unofficial election results will be available beginning after 9:00 PM on April 3 – Any data appearing before 8:00 PM on April 3 are strictly for testing purposes. Unofficial results do not include absentee and provisional ballots that will be counted on April 13, 2012.

Democratic
Candidate Party Votes Percent
PRESIDENTIAL PREFERENCE
Barack Obama DEM 23,831 96.24%
Uncommitted DEM 465 1.877%
UNDER VOTES DEM 305 1.231%
WRITE-IN DEM 159 0.642%
See Ward Details
DELEGATE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES DISTRICT OF
Eleanor Holmes Norton DEM 22,297 90.04%
UNDER VOTES DEM 1,789 7.224%
WRITE-IN DEM 673 2.717%
See Ward Details
AT – LARGE MEMBER OF THE COUNCIL DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Sekou Biddle DEM 9,863 39.83%
Vincent Orange DEM 9,487 38.31%
Peter Shapiro DEM 2,753 11.11%
E. Gail Anderson Holness DEM 1,776 7.172%
UNDER VOTES DEM 724 2.923%
WRITE-IN DEM 147 0.593%
See Ward Details
MEMBER OF THE COUNCIL WARD TWO
Jack Evans DEM 1,426 79.70%
UNDER VOTES DEM 235 13.13%
WRITE-IN DEM 126 7.043%
See Ward Details
MEMBER OF THE COUNCIL WARD FOUR
Muriel E. Bowser DEM 2,171 68.22%
Renee L. Bowser DEM 368 11.56%
Max Skolnik DEM 329 10.33%
Baruti Jahi DEM 119 3.739%
Judi Jones DEM 80 2.514%
Calvin "Gurley" DEM 66 2.074%
UNDER VOTES DEM 42 1.319%
WRITE-IN DEM 5 0.157%
See Ward Details
MEMBER OF THE COUNCIL WARD SEVEN
Yvette M. Alexander DEM 1,841 42.00%
Tom Brown DEM 954 21.76%
Kevin B. Chavous DEM 916 20.89%
William Rev. Bill Bennett II DEM 496 11.31%
Dorothy Douglas DEM 100 2.281%
UNDER VOTES DEM 32 0.730%
Monica L. Johnson DEM 24 0.547%
WRITE-IN DEM 20 0.456%
See Ward Details
MEMBER OF THE COUNCIL WARD EIGHT
Marion Barry DEM 1,978 73.86%
Jacque D. Patterson DEM 229 8.551%
S.S. Sandra Seegars DEM 204 7.617%
Natalie Williams DEM 151 5.638%
Darrell Danny Gaston DEM 97 3.622%
UNDER VOTES DEM 12 0.448%
WRITE-IN DEM 7 0.261%
See Ward Details
UNITED STATES SENATOR DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Michael D. Brown DEM 14,136 57.08%
Pete Ross DEM 6,453 26.06%
UNDER VOTES DEM 3,692 14.90%
WRITE-IN DEM 478 1.930%
See Ward Details
UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Nate Bennett-Fleming DEM 18,468 74.58%
UNDER VOTES DEM 5,685 22.95%
WRITE-IN DEM 608 2.455%
See Ward Details

D.C. Council candidates scramble for primary votes

D.C. Council candidates scramble for primary votes

By Mike DeBonis and Tim Craig, Washington Post, Published: April 1

The driver on Benning Road NE cried out to D.C. Council candidate Tom Brown, standing in front of his modest campaign headquarters Sunday: “What you up to?”

“Countdown! Countdown! Countdown!” Brown shouted back.

With hours dwindling before Tuesday’s District primaries, candidates scrambled across the city hunting for votes on foot, in the mail and on wheels. Brown’s Democratic race for the Ward 7 council seat stands to be one of the election’s most competitive, along with the at-large Democratic council race that includes incumbent Vincent B. Orange.

Brown is one of four candidates trying to unseat five-year member Yvette M. Alexander, and he has seen a surge of support in recent weeks, picking up major endorsements from newspapers, labor and business groups.

He tried to solidify his support Sunday by knocking on doors after attending three Palm Sunday church services and doing a radio interview. Alexander attended Sunday Mass at her home parish, Holy Redeemer in Ward 6, and spent time with friends and family a day after organizing a motorcade of more than a dozen vehicles through her home ward’s streets.

Palm Sunday, she said, was a “friends and family day,” light on campaigning. “Tomorrow is another day,” she said. “We haven’t wrapped it up. We’re still going hard.”

Also running are Kevin B. Chavous, a Hillcrest lawyer and son of a former council member; William Bennett II, a Deanwood minister; and Dorothy Douglas, a Deanwood activist and school board member. A small group of 1,400 registered Republicans in the ward will also vote in a rare contested GOP primary, between activist Ron Moten and businessman Don Folden Sr.

In an election in which most observers expect that fewer than 50,000 will vote, 6,051 voters had already cast ballots at early voting locations that closed after Saturday’s balloting.

A tough race has emerged in Ward 8, where former mayor Marion Barry is facing hard-charging Democratic challengers in his campaign for a third consecutive council term. Races in other wards are less competitive, with incumbents Jack Evans of Ward 2 and Muriel Bowser of Ward 4 expected to win their Democratic primaries handily.

Voters will also choose party nominees for president, although no surprises are expected: President Obama is running unopposed in the Democratic primary, and on the GOP side, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is heavily favored to secure the 16 delegates up for grabs. Romney’s chief rival, Rick Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, did not attempt to qualify for the ballot in the District.

The final hours of the Democratic at-large contest have turned into a grudge match between the incumbent and Sekou Biddle, who briefly filled the seat last year before losing to Orange in an April special election.

Former Prince George’s County Council member Peter Shapiro and Ward 1 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner E. Gail Anderson Holness are also vying for the seat, and the expected low turnout has kept the citywide race fluid.

On Saturday, Shapiro and his wife, Julia Wright, took on the grueling task of weeding out potential voters at Eastern Market, a hub for the District’s transient population.

Orange is expected to rack up large margins in his home base of Ward 5 and east of the Anacostia River. With Biddle and Shapiro both competing heavily for votes in more affluent neighborhoods, there is considerable risk that they could split the anti-Orange vote.

In an indication that turnout could be highest in the city’s western end, statistics released by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics show that more than a quarter of the early votes were cast at a polling place in Ward 3, amid the city’s most affluent neighborhoods in upper Northwest, followed by a downtown voting location.

Orange vows he’s also pushing for votes in Northwest, as evidenced by a campaign stop he made Saturday in Georgetown. Wearing a button that read, “Vote for the Double O, Obama & Orange,” the council member won over Chris Lapetina near 31st and O streets NW.

“The fact you are here shows you are willing to listen to people’s concerns,” said Lapetina, who is worried about city tax rates.

In North Portal Estates, however, Biddle appeared to be making inroads in a neighborhood that both he and Orange see as vital to their chances. Marva Benjamin said she worries about “the people around Orange.”

“It has to do with me thinking about his priorities,” Benjamin said. “When I’ve seen him, I haven’t been impressed.”

As with most D.C. elections, a big unknown remains — which campaign will have the most effective operation to try to drive up turnout in its favor. Shapiro said he has decided against a second mailer in order to put as many as 300 staffers and volunteers on the streets Tuesday. Orange, who has been endorsed by most local labor organizations, said he will be focusing his resources on key precincts with the help of “union support.”

Biddle, who is not devoting paid staff to a vigorous get-out-the-vote push, said he’s confident in his strategy for what is expected to be a low-turnout election. “The reality is, in a race like this, the people who are coming out to vote are the people coming out to vote,” he said.

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