Editor's note: We've asked a number of different political analysts, hacks, and general know-it-alls to weigh in on the mayor's race. Here's the first installment, by a group of local political veterans who wished to remain anonymous.
Elections are always about something. Being a well-known and funded candidate is great, but not enough to win. If that was the case, President Clinton would be in her second term. Candidate personalities, issues, and values connect with and move voters. What will collect votes in this year’s mayoral primary race?
Some ideas that candidates will push include:
• Mayor Mike McGinn’s record and style;
• The economy;
• The issues surrounding the Seattle Police Department;
• The potential basketball arena;
• Expanding light rail to more areas of the city.
• The real estate development boom in Seattle—pro or con?; and
• Balancing privacy and security (i.e., drones and security cameras).
That said, money does matter. But it is worth noting: In the last two challenged mayor's races (2001 and 2009), both McGinn and then-incumbent Greg Nickels were significantly outspent by their losing opponents.
Additionally, at this point in the race, cash on hand really matters more than total amount raised. Many candidates spend (or waste) a lot early in the race on things that do not collect many votes by Election Day.
For example: Tim Burgess, McGinn, Bruce Harrell, Ed Murray and Charlie Staadecker have all raised a lot of money, but they've also spent a lot—on things like campaign and fundraising consultants, campaign headquarters that nobody cares about, and early polling. Peter Steinbrueck, who has raised the least of all the major candidates, is the only candidate who has more than 60 percent of his funds still on hand.
Finally, with a field this large, luck is going to play some part in the outcome. Besides low polling numbers, it’s possible this fact kept Ron Sims out of the race. Depending on how you view Staadecker’s chances, this race has five or six serious candidates. Those are not great odds for any of them and it takes a great measure of control out of even the strongest candidate’s hands. The only person the big primary seems to help, a little, is Mayor McGinn. It takes some of the focus off him and lowers the bar to get to the general election, two things he desperately needs.
On to the candidates.
Mayor Mike McGinn
Assumed Base: Enviros; hipsters.
Total Raised: $153,781
Cash on Hand: $73,564
Percent Remaining of Total Raised: 48%
Strengths: Seattle’s economy is stronger that rest of the region; unemployment is dropping. “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
He’s the mayor, he can get press attention almost at will and is doing so, holding press conferences almost twice a week (he really, really wants to build more light rail to Ballard).
The tunnel project has a tolling problem that is growing worse. This alone could give him an opportunity to say “I told you so" on an issue he is welded to.
Weaknesses: He cannot stop himself from publicly fighting and it repels voters—it's almost a compulsion. See: The City Attorney, DOJ and the tunnel.
He doesn't seem interested in running the city. Most observers find his office meandering.
Despite being the incumbent, he will not raise nearly the kind of money the top three candidates will.
Chance of getting through the primary: Good
This is a huge primary group. If McGinn can crack 22 percent or so, he will go to the general. The point many people miss about the last KING 5 poll (which showed McGinn at 15 percent in a nine-way race that included Sims) is how much stronger McGinn looks with Sims out of the race. If, and it's a BIG if, he can stop sending crazy letters to city attorney Pete Holmes, he might pull this off.
Also, if 2009 is any indication, McGinn is pretty good on the campaign trail and runs the thriftiest campaign in Seattle: Few staff, fewer consultants, all voter contact. That said, he has wasted a lot already, which is not a good sign.
Finally, though other candidates all quibble about this claim, the mayor seems to be the only candidate who unequivocally supports expanding light rail to new partss of the city. That could be a wedge issue similar to (though weaker than) the tunnel in 2009, given how crazy Seattle is for rail. It is amazing all the other major candidates have avoided embracing the idea and taking the issue away from him. By this point, it is now the “Mayor’s Rail Expansion Plan,” whether they support it or not.
State Senator Ed Murray
Assumed Base: Downtown Business Interests; the LGBT Community.
Total Raised: $117,429
Cash on Hand: $66,997
Percent Remaining of Total Raised: 57 percent.
Strengths: Murray was one of the most powerful people in the state for more than a decade and has a solid track record on transportation and budget issues in Olympia. (With the Republican domination of the senate, this has admittedly been a rough session for him).
Establishment folks seem to like him. Even more than Burgess, Murray seems to be wearing the “Anti-McGinn” T-shirt for the chattering classes.
He's a gay legislator who led the gay marriage campaign and won. This is Seattle and that gets votes.
Weaknesses: Murray has an infamous temper. He has screamed at almost every reporter (and plenty of colleagues) that ever had the audacity to quote him accurately.
He has never had a tough race. Actually, he has never even been opposed by a credible challenger. These are long, tiring races and his ability to lose his temper, in public, will be closely watched.
Murray is having a bad session in Olympia. Despite winning the majority in the Senate, he still lost the majority, when two rogue Democrats joined the minority Republicans to form the Majority Coalition Caucus. Many an opponent will say, “If you can’t run the senate….”
He also can't raise money until the session (and the special session, if the legislature fails to agree on a budget) is done. He could resign his seat but that is a public, uncomfortable conversation with the constituents you are supposed to be representing. Finally Murray only represents about 20 percent of the city; most of the voters will wonder if his first name is “Patty.”
No one should be so sure the recent gay marriage initiative is going to carry his campaign. The issue won (yay!) but voters will soon ask, “what are you going to do as Mayor?”
Chance of getting through the primary: Good
Murray has shown he can raise money—a lot of it, and quickly. But fundraising is a function of time as much as the money itself. He will not be able to make up the time lost in session and it will likely lower the total he's able to raise in the primary. This helps explain why no mayor or council member has come from the legislative ranks in a long time.
The downtown establishment has liked Murray ever since supporters promoted him as a potential write-in candidate in 2009, and he'll probably steal a lot of the downtown thunder that Burgess expected. Burgess’ incentive zoning push (which would require developers to pay more for affordable housing in exchange for extra density than they currently do) has upset the business community. He has also hired the best team of consultants, but with Seattle's contribution limit so low ($700), they will likely eat up a lot of what he raises.City Councilmember Tim Burgess
City Council member Tim Burgess
Assumed Base: Old people; Republicans.
Total Raised: $194,558
Cash on Hand: $86,105
Percent Remaining of Total Raised: 44 percent
Strengths: Burgess comes off as a bit saner than everyone else running, but a little scheming—sort of like your grandfather if he was always looking over your shoulder for the grandkid he should really be talking to.
Burgess is an amazing fundraiser, but unfortunately, he seems to spends a lot too.
He seems to be a candidate that senior voters—who dominate in primary elections—and some of the business community will get behind.
Weaknesses: Ed Murray is going to go after a lot of his centrist, business thunder.
He can’t seem to shoot straight on the campaign trail. His fumbled announcement was indicative of how Burgess has operated. His transportation plan was so small it would be described as “back of the postage stamp.” His slap at Police Chief John Diaz as he was retiring looked petty. His incentive zoning push will not take one vote from another, leftier, candidate, but alienated a lot of potential business supporters.
And, fair or not, he's getting tagged as the Republican in the race. Ask Joe Mallahan, Mark Sidran and Doug Jewett how that works out.
Chance of getting through the primary: Fair
Despite raising the most money, Burgess has to catch fire, or at least a break. His current trajectory will bring him third or fourth in the primary. He's looking overly deliberative after doing an expensive ($35,000) poll, yet seems to have no campaign consultant.
Unfortunately, positions or statements that would help break him from the pack seem to be far outside his comfort zone. Raising money is not enough—the city’s limits are too low to give Burgess a few months on TV to establish himself as the “smart candidate.” He needs a breakout by June.
Former City Council member Peter Steinbrueck
Assumed Base: NIMBYs; Arena Haters
Total Raised: $44,299
Cash on Hand: $30,405
Percent Remaining of Total Raised: 68 percent.
Strengths: Steinbrueck is the only candidate in the race who's against the arena—REALLY against it.
He's also the only anti-development candidate. (Though he denies it often, nobody seems to be buying it).
And he uses his late father Victor Steinbrueck's popularity every chance he can, even in his Pike Market campaign logo.
Weaknesses: Like Murray, Steinbrueck, who served on the council for a decade, has never had a tough race.
Based on fundraising totals so far, he doesn't seem positioned to raise much money.
And he's starting to get a NIMBY label in a Seattle that is not as pro-NIMBY as when Charlie Chong ran for city council … in the late 1990s.
Chances to get through the primary: Fair
In a race where candidates will stretch to have enough money to even reach voters once with a piece of mail, name recognition will mean a lot. Hence the allure of Steinbrueck. Also, just as McGinn rode the anti-tunnel message to City Hall, Steinbrueck could do the same with his anti-arena pitch. Time will tell how voters feel about the project.
Outside of those two strengths, it's hard to see Steinbrueck's path to victory if the other candidates run strong races. That said, if he had run in 2009 (when supporters launched a "People for Peter" campaign), he might be nayor now.
City Council member Bruce Harrell
Assumed Base: Communities of color; the anti-drone, tin foil hat crowd.
Total Raised: $78,473
Cash on Hand:$34,606
Percent Remaining of Total Raised: 44 percent
Strengths: In this crowded field, Harrell is the only candidate of color. Also, as a former Husky football player and lawyer, he has the most interesting personal story in the race.
Through his business connections and his wife’s, Harrell knows a lot of rich people who will donate.
On the council, he's getting traction with an ACLU pro-privacy angle.
Weaknesses: He hasn't proven himself on the campaign trail. Harrell was headed for a loss in his first race for council when his opponent, Venus Velazquez, got a DUI right before the election.
He usually seems equally bored on the council and as a candidate.
Like Burgess, it's not clear what will break him out of a third or fourth place finish.
Chances to get through the primary: Fair
Of all the candidates, Harrell seems to be the most in need of some traction. He is likely one of the least-known of this crop of candidates and, like Burgess, does not seem the type to jump out of the pack with a aggressive position or statement. That said, he has a compelling story and he and his wife’s business success could potentially position him to outraise Murray’s coming deluge of cash.
Bowtie wearers (You know who you are); Maybe seniors
Total Raised: $ 132,125
Cash on Hand: $ 65,900
Percent Remaining of Total Raised: 50 percent
Strengths: He's shown that he can raise money; he's a successful businessman (he runs a commercial real-estate company).
Weaknesses: He's an unknown who hasn't proven himself on the campaign trail.
The bumps and scrapes of a tough mayoral race tend to wear worse on first-time, wealthy candidates than the average candidate.
Despite the fact that it's only April, Staadecker is spending a ton on consultants, which will limit his ability to get his message out later, when it matters.
Chances to get through the primary: Poor
It is really hard to finish in the top two of a big primary. He could give Burgess some issues with senior voters, but beyond that, it’s hard to see how Staadecker breaks out of the pack.
That said, with so little to lose, Staadecker might find it easier to swing for the fences, position-wise, to make a name for himself, a la Charlie Chong. However, his comments to date do not indicate that kind of strategy. Finally, his pay to his campaign consultants is stunningly high, another mistake of first-time, well-funded candidates. Almost 60% of his expenditures to date are on fundraising?