When Thiru Vignarajah announced he’d drop out from the mayor’s primary race on Wednesday, more than 16,500 Democratic mail-in ballots had already been cast — one-third of all mail ballots sent to blue Baltimoreans.

Political observers are in widespread agreement that the attorney’s decision to bow out of the primary and endorse former Mayor Sheila Dixon will impact the race in one way or another: 2020′s race was decided by just a few thousand votes. How big an impact the endorsement can have will depend partly on how many mail-in votes for Vignarajah have already been cast.

At a Dixon rally at her Remington headquarters Wednesday night, the evening before early in-person voting began, the two candidates and their supporters were energized by the development and made clear they’d work overtime to get out the vote for the May 14 primary.

“I need you to leave here, get some rest, and get at the polls tomorrow,” Dixon told an enthusiastic crowd that included former Mayor Jack Young and former council members Carl Stokes, Rikki Spector and Helen Holton.

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In the 2022 primary election, mail ballots comprised about 37% of all Baltimore ballots cast in the Democratic primary. Vignarajah, who ran that cycle for state’s attorney, netted about 11,600 mail-in votes and about 14,000 voters cast their ballots for him at the polls — meaning 45% of Vignarajah’s votes arrived on mail ballots.

Baltimore voters were far more likely to vote by mail in 2020, when the election was conducted mostly via mail-in ballots amid pandemic lockdowns.

Residents could vote in person on election day, and mail-in ballots were counted after polls closed. More Dixon supporters voted in person than Scott supporters, so the former mayor led the first few days of results until all mail-in ballots were counted. He ultimately netted 43,927 votes, about 3,000 more ballots than Dixon. Vignarajah earned 17,080 votes that cycle. Like every other 2020 primary candidate, the majority of his supporters voted by mail.

“The reality is that two-thirds of the votes are cast in early voting and election day,” Vignarajah said at the rally. “And the remainder of mail-in ballots remain to be cast.”

Spector, a supporter of Vignarajah in past elections, endorsed Dixon over the weekend.

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“I supported Thiru last time, but I know Sheila can do the job,” she said. “The people who support Thiru know he made this decision for Baltimore, and will follow him.”

A recent survey from Goucher College Poll and The Baltimore Banner found 11% of respondents said they would support Vignarajah, while 40% said they would back Scott and 32% said they supported Dixon. Businessman Bob Wallace garnered 3% support. Ten percent of those polled were undecided.

The poll of 440 likely Democratic voters was conducted by phone and text from April 3 to April 7, and has a margin of error of 4.7 percentage points.

Spector, the longest serving council member in City Hall, said she believes what was definitely a “horse race” is now clear-cut for Dixon after Vignarajah dropped out.

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Councilman Eric Costello, an early supporter of Dixon, was more conservative. In lines with Dixon’s messaging, he said the endorsement was highly energizing but that the campaign would continue to reach out to voters with the ferocity of a team that is fighting the odds.

“The only victory lap there is, is the one held on May 14,” Costello said.

Emily Sullivan covers Baltimore City Hall. She joined the Banner after three years at WYPR, where she won multiple awards for her radio stories on city politics and culture. She previously reported for NPR’s national airwaves, focusing on business news and breaking news.

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