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Stephanie Grace, center, leads the Lake Area Mayoral Forum Sponsored by The New Orleans Advocate at the Hellenic cultural Center attended by, from left to right, Tommie Vassel, Michael Bagneris, Troy Henry, Desiree Charbonnet, LaToya Cantrell and Frank Scurlock in New Orleans, La., Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017.

Advocate staff photo by MAX BECHERER

Early voting has become pretty popular, but truth be told, I prefer to wait until Election Day. Going to my neighborhood polling place feels more like a civic celebration. Plus, I don't want to don't want to risk committing early in case some last-minute development changes my mind.

The prospect of any such ground-shifting development is seeming less and less likely as the New Orleans mayoral primary approaches, though.

Early voting started Saturday and continues throughout the week, but the race's homestretch doesn't feel much different from its earlier days. City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell and Former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet started with the biggest buzz, and according to a new poll taken for the New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV, they're neck and neck for first place, at 27 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

Former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris, who never really stopped running after his losing challenge to Mayor Mitch Landrieu the last time around, trails at 19 percent but remains in striking distance.

In other words, not much has changed since the campaign started, and it's getting awfully late for anything to change now.

The poll of 500 registered voters, by the Clarus Research Group, was taken Sept. 25-27, so it didn't capture some of the race's most recent developments.

These include Charbonnet's feud with real estate/trash collection magnate and reality television star Sidney Torres, whose PAC last week staged a televised debate ostentatiously titled "The People's Debate" (it was more like "a person's debate"). Charbonnet pulled out at the last minute, and Torres has since gone on the attack, airing televisions ads calling her cowardly. 

But by the time the poll went into the field, Charbonnet was already getting hammered by another outside PAC with undisclosed donors, which is trying to cast doubt on her many political affiliations by suggesting she'd run a pay-for-play administration. She's now running ads strongly denouncing the attacks and vouching for her own integrity, and there's every possibility the situation might invoke as much sympathy as suspicion.

Nor did the poll capture the full effect of Cantrell's endorsement by nola.com, although it was taken after the first big media endorsement, from Gambit, which also fell her way. (The Advocate does not make candidate endorsements.)

Still, the poll suggests that not much would alter the contest's basic shape.

On top of the predictable horse-race standings, the survey offers up additional evidence that nobody is really catching fire or even breaking through with key groups. Despite the prospect of New Orleans electing its first female mayor, women aren't gravitating toward a particular candidate. Charbonnet fared slightly better with women than men and Cantrell better with men than women, but the differences aren't earth-shattering. Bagneris did just about as well with women as he did with men.

The poll didn't reveal a wide racial divide, with one exception. Cantrell and Charbonnet each did about twice as well with black voters as Bagneris did, with 30 percent, 28 percent and 15 percent, respectively. But white support was about evenly divided among the three front-runners. All three candidates are African-American, as are a majority of the city's voters, but Bagneris' relatively stronger showing among white voters may have something to do with some key endorsements and contributions by big business leaders.

And the survey offers no hope at all to any of the second-tier candidates who'd wanted to capture voter imaginations, as an unknown cable executive named Ray Nagin did in 2002 when he faced a much better known and more seasoned field. Consultant and former water company executive Troy Henry, who finished second to Landrieu in 2010 and who has been included in forums and media coverage, is the first choice of only four percent. Tommy Vassel, a CPA with wide public sector experience but a low public profile, got two percent. So did Frank Scurlock, the businessman who once promised to spend boatloads of his own money, but who's now mainly known for having been charged with masturbating in the back of a California Uber.

If these three haven't caught any momentum by now, it's unlikely they've got time to do so before Oct. 14 — let alone before all those early voters go to the polls this week.

Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.