Seattle Mayor's Race

Handicapping the Mayoral Primary

McGinn and Steinbrueck will remain the favorites until the other candidates get aggressive.

By ElectionNerd July 12, 2013

UPDATE: Shortly after we published this, the Seattle Times announced that they are endorsing Ed Murray for mayor. That news is not factored into this analysis, though it is the subject of today's subsequent Afternoon Jolt where we made both Murray and Mike McGinn winners thanks to the Times Murray endorsement.

We are finally seeing the Mayoral Election in full swing!  TV spots are flying (well, sporadically around basic cable at least) and phone bank are starting; this is when the fun begins.  Only five days until ballots go out.  Heck, only 26 days until the Primary Election.   

The real challenge for the candidates now is reaching voters who aren't engaged in an August primary the way they might in a Presidential election. You need a lot of money and volunteers to move the needle even a bit—and those resources are really what will determine who can make it to the General Election. The hot summer weather is likely making it even harder for candidates to make headway as people are less likely to be home to get a call or answer the door.

Bruce Harrell: B- / Primary Odds 8:1

Harrell’s fundraising juggernaut finally hit a pothole this week with him reporting $6,030 raised—a nearly 50 percent drop from the previous week raised.  With so little time left, he needs every dime (and more of them) to make it to the General Election.

His Wage Gap Solution legislation is a direct effort to court women voters and continue his smart positioning as the social justice candidate (a much more believable play than when Joe Mallahan tried that route). But he's botched that a bit by reversing course on the DOJ, saying now that the mayor should have been tougher with the DOJ, not more cooperative. (That awkward reverse has gotten him into trouble with Seattle Times).  

Harrell gets a “B-” this week. His odds of getting through the Primary Election were lowered to 8:1 due to the fact that time is running out and he is not yet showing the resources to break out of what is suspected to be a current third or fourth place in the polls. He did launched a very good TV spot late last week telling his story, which was quoted verbatim in an above-the-fold Seattle Times story this week, but it's a relatively small cable buy that just may not be enough.

Ed Murray: B /Primary Odds 6:1

Ed Murray is, figuratively, a free man. Session is finally over and he can raise money, a lot of it. (I put out the challenge to him in my last handicapping column, and he delivered.)  Murray brought in almost $28,000 in one week. That is an amazing number, but it is also tempered by the fact he likely ended session with around $65,000 in the bank if you estimate based on his campaign’s high monthly expenses. So with 26 days until the general, he is starting with $95,000ish to build name ID, and pass either McGinn or Steinbrueck (who are polling ahead and who are not standing still. ).

Murray does have an independent expenditure helping to bring in more cash,  but hasn't been raising the amount it needs—about $20,000 after a month and half—to propel his candidacy

Murray also went up on TV this week with the smallest buy of the race so far, at $25,000, with a spot that did not impress PubliCola. I agree. What do John F. Kennedy, Barney Frank, and gay marriage have to do with city issues? Answer: Jupiter.

He is reporting phone banking at his HQ so that is a good move. And a week after scoring some big endorsements earlier in the month—most notably current Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes—the Seattle Times first big piece on the election ran this week (above the fold) framing the race as a McGinn Murray showdown; you cant ask for better earned media. 

Murray gets a “B” for the week, it would have been higher given his impressive fundraising, but you have to use that money effectively and the current TV spot is not going to win this race. 

His Primary Election Odds are moving back to 6:1 simply because time is running out and there have not been actions that would lead to a breakout for him yet.
Mike McGinn: A- /Primary Odds 3:1

McGinn raised over $12,000 this week, which for him is, well, shocking.  He also went up on TV with his second spot of the race. The ads are not very polished, but they talk about basics—like libraries and schools, a good choice for a primary that's likely to skew to older voters. (And for all the talk that Peter Steinbrueck has the older crowd wrapped up, McGinn was only two percentage points behind Steinbrueck with the over-65 voters in the same poll).  

The real reason McGinn scores well this week, however, isn't about him, it's about his opponents. He will remain at cozy 3:1 odds to make it through the Primary unless the other candidates make some more aggressive moves in the race.

Peter Steinbrueck: A / Primary Odds 3:1 

Speaking of good odds, we're moving Steinbrueck up.

Not only does the mid-summer primary favor favorite son Steinbrueck, but he  continues his slow and steady fundraising performance bringing in a little over $6,500 for the week. The other candidates have less money, but with built-in name ID, Steinbrueck, who says he's not doing TV, will get just as much bang for the (targeted buck) with mail. His consultant Cathy Allen, though expensive, does produce strong mail. If it were any other candidate, this decision would cause concern, but with senior voters favoring Steinbrueck in the polls, and their habit of actually reading campaign mail, this will likely work in the low turnout Primary. 

Wrap Up:

Time is running out for all of these candidates. Imagine they are all racing for the door, only two can make it through, and McGinn and Steinbrueck are out in front.  (At least according to available polling).

 What will Harrell and Murray try to do to pass them?  It is a tough decision; both have to build their name ID with voters with limited funds.  Despite all the talk of the TV spots in this piece, every candidates’ purchase to date is anemic by advertisers standards. Can they spend money attacking McGinn or Steinbrueck as well?  Would the attack help a campaign other than your own? These are all tough decisions that are being made in these two camps right now.

One other consideration is that in the 2009 Primary, even late polling had Greg Nickels in the lead or at least top two spots. Something collapsed for him in the final days and you have to fear that possibility if you are McGinn or Steinbrueck. Did the voters who finally woke up at the end break against Nickels. We’ll never know for sure, but it is known that even now, most people are not checked into this race and when they do it will inspire hope and dread for all of these candidates.

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