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Adrian Walker

The voter wild card in Boston’s mayoral race

Felix Arroyo hasn’t gotten the message that he is in the dreaded second tier of mayoral candidates three weeks before the preliminary election.

He is also a dissenter from the widespread view that few voters have been paying attention to the race to succeed Tom Menino.

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His view is more optimistic.

“I’m out there every day at T stations and coffee shops, and communities across the city are really having conversations, talking about our city,” he said Tuesday. Arroyo foresees more voter enthusiasm than many observers predict. “We need a high turnout, and I believe that’s coming.”

As the race nears the Sept. 24 preliminary election, a key question for many candidates is who, exactly, will go to the polls. Will it be, as many believe, a low-turnout race dominated by traditional, older voters? Or will the race capture the imagination of a bigger swath of Bostonians than polls are currently capturing?

The answer to those questions may be especially important to the candidates of color in the race, many of whom are lagging behind expectations in polling. Some, like Arroyo, believe polls are simply undercounting their core constituencies.

Of course, candidates who are trailing in races routinely declare polling to be inaccurate — and they almost always turn out to be wrong. Still, there may be something to the idea that voters will turn out in somewhat higher numbers than the abysmal 28 percent predicted.

At least that’s the contention of political consultant Gus Bickford. Bickford, a highly regarded numbers guru and Democratic State Committee member who is unaligned in the race, has crunched the numbers, and he thinks the turnout will surprise people — and might upend expectations.

He has examined the turnout figures for prior mayor’s races. He also analyzed other races involving candidates in this field, as a way of gauging their ability to attract voters.

“With so many candidates turning out their bases, I think turnout will be higher than you usually see in preliminary elections,” he said Tuesday. While most projections call for around 110,000 voters, he believes the number could be 130,000 or higher. That may not sound like a big difference. But in a case where the front-runners are only polling three to five points ahead of the middle of the pack, that could be enough to give life to candidates who are now being dismissed.

According to most polling, the current leaders are state Representative Martin Walsh, City Councilor John Connolly, and Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley. But several other candidates — Arroyo, former city housing chief Charlotte Golar Richie, City Councilors Rob Consalvo and Mike Ross — are lurking within striking distance. A larger turnout, especially in communities of color, might well boost some of them.

After a sleepy past month or so, the campaign seems poised to move into a higher gear. Every candidate who can afford television advertising is on the air. After months of scant attention to issues, candidates are actually beginning to air ideas about things like job creation and development. If voters are inclined to begin to focus, there’s more to focus on than there was a month ago.

And the historic nature of the first open mayor’s race in a generation is bound to begin to resonate. For a city that has lived under three mayors since 1968, this is hardly just another election. A lot of history suggests that the person who wins in November will be around for a while.

The one sure thing is several candidates have a chance to make it to the final balloting. The most interesting part of the campaign may be just beginning. We’ll see who can close the deal.

“I believe if we’re out there and invite them to be part of this process and see themselves in the future of this city, they will come out to vote,” Arroyo said. “The onus is on me to make the case.”

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.
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