Election night was a little surprising. Many observers thought the gap between state Sen. Ed Murray (D-43, Capitol Hill) and Mayor Mike McGinn would be far wider.
So bear with me here: Despite Murray's victory on Tuesday, ElectionNerd thinks he may be in trouble.
Yes, Murray came in first against a sitting mayor after spending most of the year in the legislative session (and thus barred from raising money) and that says a lot.
But on the other hand, the mayor charged back from what most thought was his political grave. He is not only still standing, but looking a little like where he was in 2009 at this point—the outsider running against the business guy—which is not a bad spot to be in Seattle politics.
Yes, that sounds crazy given that McGinn is the mayor—and given that Murray is actually a liberal state senator who passed gay marriage, passed the toughest auto emission standards in the country, and has a 95 percent lifetime voting record with the Washington State Labor Council (100 this past session). But still: Murray is saddled with the Chamber of Commerce endorsement, which can be hell in a Seattle's mayor's race.
What does the general election look like for Murray and McGinn? Why did the others fail to make it through?
Let's dive in!
His team should be happy with where they are now, but should also be looking to retool. They spent a lot of money: When you count the independent expenditure (IE), the pro-Murray camp spent close to $500,000. With all that spent, it seems that the relatively staid party—there was no cheering when his first-place numbers came in—reflected some disappointment in McGinn's convincing survival.
The Murray campaign framed their message in the primary about the mayor being divisive juxtaposed against a warm Murray bio that focused on his ability to collaborate and get things done. They did great mail and TV introducing Murray, but the continuous “McGinn is divisive” messaging, even on the Whole Foods issue, didn’t stick.
If his team assumes that a vote for Harrell/Steinbrueck/Other will go to Murray, they are going to have a rough race. McGinn’s message looks a lot closer to the challengers while Murray seems too close to the Chamber on issues that will weigh him down, if not make him Joe Mallahan/ Mark Sidran 2013. His immediate flip-flop on Whole Foods is likely going to come back in the general election.
A Path Forward for Murray
There is a path for Murray to be the next mayor, but there are also many obstacles that could send him back to Olympia as a state senator next January.
Back away from the Chamber of Commerce. Now. You can call yourself the progressive 'til the end of the race, but if you don’t actually DO something to back away, you should schedule your consolation beer with Joe Mallahan now. Speak against them, criticize them, anything. Your flip-flops in their favor are on video (as PubliCola first reported), so start repairing now.
Get over McGinn. Yes, the downtown bubble which you and your team attend cocktail parties with all hate McGinn. Great—that's about 400 votes. The rest of the city isn't wild about him either, but they're also concerned about rent, traffic, and crime. And while you call McGinn a jerk in debates, he is going to drill down a mile on these issues as only a mayor can and make you look unprepared for the job.
Keep raising that money! The fact that a primary max-out donor (that is, someone who has already given $700) is shut out of giving in the general will make things a little harder. Are there that many folks who want to contribute in a Seattle mayoral race? We’ll find out.
Finally, talk to the city. Being a senator from Seattle is not the same thing as being the mayor. In most debates Murray brought it back to Olympia way too much and sounded like he was running for governor. Stop talking regional, and start telling Seattle what you will do for them. The next time light rail comes up, say, “Yes,” and don’t hype "regional" transit, ever.
Wow. Even though ElectionNerd thought McGinn was likely to come through, I didn't expect the first count of the night, which tends to be the most conservative, to be Murray 30 percent and McGinn 27 percent. That number is particularly impressive given that Murray, Harrell, and Steinbrueck all attacked McGinn as much as they could. The primary ballot was the tougher of the two this year for the mayor, as you can expect more new voters, who tend to skew to the left, in November.
It was a well-run campaign. Hats off to the field effort and the paid voter contact. That said, there will be even more money going to Murray heading in to the general election, which will likely be focused on on the mayor’s personality.
McGinn’s Path Forward
McGinn should dust off his general election game of 2009 and frame Murray as the tool of the insiders. He seems incapable of denying his connection to them—so paint him with it. McGinn has been very tentative with Murray in the debates, likely because his polling showed that voters found him overly combative. Still, he has to figure out a way to keep pushing Murray into the Chamber’s corner.
Find more money. You have little time to raise it, so start now. Obvious, but a number of people think the earlier primary buys a breather. The November election is only 90 days away. Don’t screw up what got you this far. The lean campaign staff with a good field effort worked its magic again. Stay with it.
Don’t get cocky either. This general is going to be brutal as Murray and his IE pound away at McGinn.
Harrell ran the best race he could. He just has low name ID and did not move aggressively enough early on to take the space Murray did as the establishment candidate against McGinn. If he wants to run again for higher office, he should use his council office to build up his name ID much earlier.
Steinbrueck’s race was one of lost opportunities. His name ID got him into second at the start, but without the ability to raise much money, he slowly faded. Also, what he did raise did not go to voter contact in the amount that it could; a good number of his expenditures were questionable. Imagine if he had run a leaner campaign and had $150,000 for voter contact.
I'm only including Staadecker on this list so that this post can serve as a warning to ANY rich person who feels that their wealth automatically qualifies them for office. Staadecker is a nice, smart man, but in no way had enough experience to field a competitive race. His expenditure reports told the story of a candidate who spent on his consultant to a shocking level and his solitary mail piece was a text-filled manifesto.
On to the General Election!
At this point, both Murray and McGinn have a good shot. Murray’s money and business support buy him a lot of firepower and McGinn’s lean campaign and neighborhood candidate approach has worked in the past.
The real race is how both candidates need to change to become more like each other. Murray needs to learn how to run in a tough race. This is his first real campaign and he will be on a number of televised debates and interviews. Even on Election Night he looked rough on camera at times.
McGinn, in contrast, has generally come off as polished and knowledgeable. Four years as mayor can do that for you.
For his part, McGinn needs to bring in more money—a lot more—than he did in the primary. He also needs to work to a little closer to the political middle so Murray does not scoop up the 65-and-older voters without a fight. They are likely not wild about either candidate, but current trends could send them to Murray.