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Votes for Catherine Pugh, Sheila Dixon fell along racial lines in Baltimore mayor's race

State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh prevailed in the Democratic primary after winning most of the precincts with a majority white population and few of the majority African-American precincts, a data analysis shows.

Pugh narrowly defeated former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who had broad appeal in predominantly African-American areas of the city.

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While some political observers said the precinct-level results on Election Day show Pugh's ability to reach across racial lines and build coalitions, others said the results show an electorate divided along racial lines.

Farajii Muhammad, co-host of "The Larry Young Morning Show" on WOLB, said Pugh has much work to do to make in-roads in the poorer black neighborhoods of Baltimore, where Dixon is popular.

"Senator Pugh is going to have to make some real big strides to gain the trust of the poor and the middle class of the city," he said. "She needs to say, 'Look, even though this is a contentious contest, at the end of the day, I'm still going to think about your interest.'"

Dixon won 170 of about 200 city precincts that have a majority African-American population, while Pugh won 69 of the approximately 96 precincts that have a majority white population, according to Election Day voting data released by the Baltimore Board of Elections.

"It has come down to almost a black and white issue," said Muhammad, a Dixon supporter. "A lot of those who are poor in our city responded to Sheila Dixon. They felt she would respond to their interests. That's why she swept those black precincts. ... I don't think the white citizens of Baltimore ever truly forgave her. There was a big lack of trust in the white community."

Pugh finished second to Dixon in many majority-black precincts, while Dixon garnered few votes in white precincts.

Pugh said the results show she was able to garner support across racial lines. She said she works to reach out to every "sector of the community" and that city voters know her from her work in the General Assembly and her efforts to found the Baltimore marathon and the Baltimore Design School.

"It is important to build coalitions," she said. "We have to be cognizant of every individual — black, white, Latino."

The Democratic nominee will face Republican Alan Walden and Green Party nominee Joshua Harris in the November general election. The heavily Democratic city has for decades chosen a Democrat for mayor.

Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, said Pugh's path to victory shows "the power of coalition building" and gives a blueprint to future citywide candidates.

Baltimore's elections have been moved to coincide with presidential contests, so more voters are expected to participate in future elections.

"You have to reach out to all parts of the city," she said. "The building of a broad-based coalition won the day. You need to engage in a larger cross-section of Baltimoreans."

As often happens after hotly contested elections, Kromer said, Pugh must work to win over pockets of the city that went for Dixon and other candidates in order to be successful.

"She will have to build bridges," Kromer said. "There are residents who really wanted Sheila back, but this is the same story after every election. It's the same thing Larry Hogan had to do."

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Hogan won the statewide race for governor in 2014, overcoming a 2-to-1 advantage for Democrats.

Dixon was hurt by a poor finish in many white neighborhoods, the data shows. Dixon often finished in third, fourth — or even lower — in majority-white precincts.

For instance, Pugh won a largely white precinct at Hampden Elementary School with 235 votes. She was followed closely by Lawyer Elizabeth Embry, with 229 votes. Then businessman David L. Warnock, activist DeRay Mckesson and City Councilman Carl Stokes — all ahead of Dixon. Dixon finished a distant sixth, with 22 votes.

Overall, Pugh captured 36.6 percent of the vote to Dixon's 34.7 percent. Embry finished with 11.7 percent, Warnock with 8.1 percent and Stokes with 3.5 percent. Dixon got slightly more votes than Pugh on Election Day, but Pugh had garnered enough votes during early voting to retain the lead.

Dixon won big in East and West Baltimore, where residents turned out in high numbers to vote for her. For example, at Gilmor Elementary School in Sandtown-Winchester, Dixon took 65 percent of the vote — 421 votes compared to 179 for Pugh. No other candidate got more than 13 votes in the precinct.

Precinct-level data also show Dixon won nine of 14 City Council districts on Election Day, including every seat represented by an African-American council member. Pugh won five council districts, all represented by white council members.

The race between Pugh and Dixon turned negative in its final weeks, with Dixon sending out mailers that were critical of Pugh, and a pro-Pugh political action committee spending hundreds of thousands on TV ads that called Dixon "corrupt." The former mayor resigned in 2010 after being found guilty of embezzlement and perjury.

During early voting, the Dixon campaign accused Pugh of running a "vote-buying scheme" by offering people $100 jobs and then busing them to the polls. Dixon has questioned whether those actions cost her the election.

Pugh was officially declared the winner of the race on Monday by 2,449 votes. Dixon has two days to ask for a recount. A spokeswoman said Tuesday a decision had not been made.

Voting data showed that Stokes was popular in some of the precincts that Dixon won, but Kromer said it was unclear whether Stokes siphoned off support that would otherwise have gone to the former mayor, blocking her from winning.

"It's impossible to know without extensive exit polling," Kromer said. "It becomes frustrating for Dixon's people, given the closeness of the election. There are always the 'ifs, ands and buts.' Everything looks clearer in hindsight."

Embry's presence in the race raises similar questions for Pugh, Kromer said.

"If Embry would have gotten out, what would the numbers have looked like?" Kromer asked.

Pugh said she plans to work in the coming months to help unite the divided electorate.

Running on a message of moving Baltimore "forward, not backward" gives her a good foundation to build on, Pugh said.

"A positive campaign bodes well for the city," she said.

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