But as ballots were dropped today, there's a less academic, more basic element in the runnup to the August 6 primary that could easily decide the race—what's known in political circles as "field," meaning what kind of grassroots organizing (be it on the phone or at the doors) campaigns have going.
To get a sense of the campaigns' field efforts, I visited the campaign offices of incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn, and his top challengers state Sen. Ed Murray, City Council member Bruce Harrell, and former City Council member Peter Steinbrueck.
Warning some campaigns (Murray's) were more forthcoming than others (McGinn's).
Mike McGinn's office
I set out on foot to the International District last Friday to visit McGinn’s headquarters, a small storefront-turned-campaign office, looking out on the corner of S. Jackson and Maynard. The team inside was busy organizing volunteers and calling constituents, running on a steady stream of coffee and caffeinated soda.
A young college-aged volunteer greeted me and introduced me to McGinn’s campaign director Bill Monto, who was preparing for the weekend canvassing events in West Seattle. He gave me a quick snapshot of where the campaign was at:
Daily Volunteers: Between 15-50
Phone Banking: Everyday
Door Knocking: "More than the other guys"
Targeting: All over the city; recently in the 37th and 43rd districts, West Seattle Summer Fest and International District Dragon Fest.
The campaign decided to set up shop in the ID because of the convenient location. "It's a great part of the city,” Monto said (McGinn’s last campaign office was also located in South Seattle).
On Saturday the campaign hosted a volunteer open house at their ID office, and recently based their efforts out of McGinn’s home in Greenwood.
Grub for Volunteers: On phone-banking nights, the campaign provides meals for volunteers, i.e. "Taco Tuesdays."
Ed Murray's office
I took a tunnel bus from King Street to Convention place to visit Ed Murray’s office, on the corner of Summit and E. Pike. A hip Cap Hiller offered me a bottle of water when I arrived; I must have been panting from the uphill trek.
As I waited to chat with Murray's campaign manager, Maggie Thompson (pictured), I perused the blue and yellow campaign literature on the counter, featuring friendly photos of Ed, his dog Rory, and his fiancé Michael—and hyping his state legislative achievements: gay marriage, doubling affordable housing funds and protecting social services from GOP cuts, and "uniting" business and labor for 2005's transit package. Thompson, a former field operative on the gay marriage measure, met me at the front office desk and gave me the rundown:
Daily Volunteers: between 25-30
Phone Banking: Four times a week, over 10,000 calls made to voters so far
Door Knocking: Canvassing every day with 7,000 doors knocked on so far, aim to hit 20,000 by the primary
Field: All over the city. This weekend, Murray volunteers were rubbing elbows with McGinn’s crew at the West Seattle Summer Fest.
Murray's campaign office runs a tight ship. On any typical day, 25-30 volunteers help with data entry, canvassing, phone banking, and other campaign efforts, under the leadership of four paid staffers. Of the 120 active volunteers on file, 60 have participated in doorknocking, with a concerted canvassing effort on Sunday.
Displacing Opponents: Murray's Capitol Hill headquarters are the former HQ of one-time mayoral candidate Tim Burgess, who's since endorsed Murray, a spot moderate Burgess had been trying to parlay into progressive Capitol Hill cred.
Bruce Harrell's office
On Monday I took the Route 3 bus to Harrell’s office in the Central District, on the corner of 23rd and Union.
While the office was void of volunteers when I arrived in the morning, the staff was busy ramping up for the week’s events. While two men waited to discuss a possible endorsement, Harrell’s campaign manager Monisha Harrell and I chatted about their field efforts in an adjacent office:
Daily Volunteers: About 20, 140 volunteers on file
Phone Banking: Everyday, total hours N/A
Door Knocking: Canvassing four times a week, knocked on 10,000 doors so far
Field: Aiming to hit every neighborhood, from Lake City and Rainier Beach, to Broadview and West Seattle. “Visibility and name recognition is huge,” said Monisha Harrell. For every person the campaign contacts directly, three will see the orange Harrell for Mayor logo around the city, she notes.
In the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, Monisha spoke candidly about the campaign's focus on under-served communities in Seattle and specifically highlighted Harrell’s successful legislation to prevent employers from discriminating against ex-felons as an example of his social justice agenda.
The stories of people they meet in the field and in the office is what keeps them going, she said. Over the weekend, Monisha Harrell spent nine hours canvassing with Bruce's wife Joanne and campaign volunteers.
Best Volunteer Day Care: Harrell's volunteers have full access to a snack fridge and even their own cubbies, labeled by name to store their stuff. When canvassing, they all wear the iconic orange "Harrell for Mayor" tee.
Peter Steinbrueck's office
From Harrell's office, I jumped on the 48 and got off the bus at Dearborn and 23rd. Steinbrueck's team was still in the process of moving into their sparse office space in the Central District, organizing volunteer efforts on foldable tables and chairs. Communications director Kathy Mulady gave me a quick rundown of the campaign's operations.
Daily Volunteers: Around 8-12
Phone Banking: Started phone banking last week, plan to phone bank several times a week until primary
Door Knocking: Frequently, number of doors N/A
Field: Recently canvassed the North Side and West Seattle, actively working in 110 precints throughout the city.
Still in its infancy, Steinbrueck’s office has a come-and-go, grassroots feel to it. Volunteers stop by the headquarters to grab campaign fliers and head to their respective neighborhoods to canvass on their own. Most volunteers have been connected through Steinbrueck’s own involvement in neighborhood and civic activism, Mulady noted. I had just missed Steinbrueck, who left the campaign office a couple minutes before I arrived.
Best stress relief: Constituents driving you crazy? The office has an Everlast punching bag hanging in the corner. (In the above pic to your right.)