As Evans inches ahead in campaign fundraising, mayor race remains cloudy

Foggy Bottom’s D.C. Council member Jack Evans has raised the most money among mayoral hopefuls so far this fall, but analysts say it will be tough for him to ride his large donor base to victory.

Jack Evans has pulled in more than $390,000 for his campaign since August, inching ahead of fellow Council member Muriel Bowser, who raised more than $228,000, according to financial disclosure reports filed Thursday.

Local political commentator Mark Plotkin, an alumnus, said Evans’ strategy to make himself look like “a big candidate” with “big dough and a big office space” could hurt him with the District’s most liberal voters.

“Sometimes I think Jack has success with the fundraising and should remember that it’s vote-gathering that is most important. If the liberals think he’s in the pocket of big business, it will hurt him in the most important place, the polls,” Plotkin said.

Evans has raised a total of about $768,000 since launching his campaign in June, and said in a phone interview Sunday that he was “very pleased with the results.”

Evans also outspent the other candidates, doling out more than $270,000 on office supplies, advertising, campaign materials, printing and staff salaries.

“We are running a full-fledged campaign. That is what it costs to run a campaign,” Evans said.

The third Council member in the running, Tommy Wells, raised $103,000 without accepting any donations from corporations. Wells took a swipe at Evans’ spending, highlighting the Evans campaign’s $6,800 monthly rent on their 14th Street office.

“Campaign offices don’t get people elected,” Wells said by phone Friday.

Chuck Thies, a contributor to NBC Washington and 20-year D.C. resident, agreed that Evans’ fundraising does not guarantee frontrunner status. Thies said Evans and Bowser were “knotted up” as the candidates have failed to distinguish themselves from the rest of the field.

“Jack Evans has signs on lampposts, Muriel has yard signs, Tommy is doing event after event, but it doesn’t feel like a campaign. There hasn’t been any controversy,” Thies said.

He said Bowser, with her connections to former Mayor Adrian Fenty and his base of voters, is the candidate to beat. But while Bowser might have “viability,” Thies said she hasn’t kept pace with the financial backing Fenty amassed.

Fenty, who was the mayor of D.C. from 2007 to 2011, lost to Gray in 2010 despite having a war chest of almost $5 million. Like Fenty, who worked closely with Bowser before becoming mayor, Bowser saw her political career start in Ward 4 and she won his vacated Council seat there after his successful mayoral bid in 2007.

Thies said he expects to see smaller stockpiles of campaign money this election cycle following a series of scandals.

And with just six months to go before the Democratic primary, fundraising may not matter nearly as much as whether or not Mayor Vincent Gray will seek reelection. Gray has not yet announced his decision, an uncertainty that Plotkin said may keep potential donors from pulling out their checkbooks.

“Political donors are a cowardly lot. They wait to support someone who they think is a winner. I think there are a lot of people who are biding their time,” Plotkin said.

Gray remains under federal investigation for a $650,000 “shadow campaign” that helped elect him in 2010. Several of Gray’s top campaign advisers have gone to court over the allegations.

“It is not surprising to see less money in District politics. Some of the crooks who previously donated are out of business or hiding in the shadows,” Thies said. “In an environment where media are writing stories about donors, those people are smart to hold their money until later in the race.”

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