Just 3 1/2 weeks before the Democratic primary, there is no front-runner in the race for City Council president, while city comptroller candidate Joan Pratt has narrowed the gap with Julian Lapides, according to a poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research for The Sun and WMAR-TV Channel 2.
In the survey of 435 likely Democratic primary voters, only seven percentage points separate the leader and the fourth-place candidate in the race for council president.
Sixth District City Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi leads with 19 percent, 4th District Councilman Lawrence A. Bell III has 18 percent, 2nd District Councilman Carl Stokes has 17 percent and 5th District Councilwoman Vera P. Hall has 12 percent. In the poll, 33 percent were undecided.
The telephone poll, taken Wednesday through Friday, selected respondents at random and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.
Like an earlier poll in July, the results of this poll for the Sept. 12 primary show racial breaks in all the races, says J. Bradford Coker, president of Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research.
About 55 percent of those voting in city elections are black, according to pollsters and political analysts.
Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 9-1 ratio, making victory in the Democratic primary nearly tantamount to election.
Mr. DiBlasi, the only white candidate, draws his support overwhelmingly from white voters, while Mr. Bell's strength comes largely from black voters.
Thirty-nine percent of white voters surveyed said they would cast their ballot for Mr. DiBlasi while only 2 percent of the black voters indicated that they would do the same.
Early in the campaign, Mr. DiBlasi's strategy was to capture white votes. But now he says that will change.
"The initial strategy is effective, but I think we have to broaden it and take our message to all citizens in every district," Mr. DiBlasi said. "I do not want to alienate any constituency; I don't want any voter to think that I don't represent them."
Mr. DiBlasi has been criticized for saying that he would go after the white vote. But Mr. DiBlasi has said that appealing to white voters was based on a winning strategy, not racism.
Twenty-nine percent of black voters in the survey said they would back Mr. Bell, while 4 percent of white voters indicated that they would vote for Mr. Bell.
Mr. Stokes appealed almost equally to both races -- 16 percent of whites and 19 percent of blacks said they would vote for him.
From the start, the council presidency campaign has had a racial element, with many community leaders calling for one of the three black candidates to drop out to avoid splitting the black vote. The survey indicates that such a split is possible.
"Stokes is doing the best to appeal across racial lines. But as long as there are three black candidates dividing up the black votes, it works to DiBlasi's favor," Mr. Coker said.
In the race for comptroller, political novice Ms. Pratt is chipping away at Mr. Lapides' extensive lead by shoring up support from the huge block of undecided voters.
Fourteen percent of the previously undecided voters now indicate they would cast their ballots for Ms. Pratt.
But Ms. Pratt still trails the veteran politician by 15 percentage points.
Thirty-eight percent of those surveyed said that they would vote for Mr. Lapides and 23 percent said they would vote for Ms. Pratt. There were 39 percent who said they were still undecided.
In last month's poll, Mr. Lapides had three times as many people who said they would vote for him.
"I think that the movement is terrific. The majority of the undecided are voting for me," Ms. Pratt said. "We're going to get louder and we're going to get more in their faces."
Mr. Lapides said he was not surprised at his opponent's gains.
"I knew I couldn't maintain a 3-to-1 edge," said Mr. Lapides. "It doesn't worry me, and there are a lot of things coming into play. Race is one factor that comes in, though I have always attempted to defuse that. I'm just delighted to be 15 points ahead."