McGinn leads; Nickels for the moment is third (updated)
See Mike McGinn meet his supporters.
Publicola has a video of the jubilation at McGinn’s party.
(Updated with the scene at Joe Mallahan and Greg Nickels’ events and videos from McGinn’s event)
A few months ago, Mayor Greg Nickels hardly could have imagined himself where he sat Tuesday night.
He was ahead in the polls, had a sizable campaign fund that dwarfed his opponents.
Mike McGinn was like a fly – annoying but hardly a threat.
But when the first results from Seattle’s mayoral primary came out Tuesday evening, Nickels suddenly found himself staring at the possibility of suffering the same fate as his predecessor, Mayor Paul Schell – bounced out of the race in the primary.
It was still early, though. Probably less than half the votes have been counted depending on how many voters stuck their ballots in the mail at the last moment.
A recent KING/5-Survey USA poll showed, the three top candidates were separated by only a few hundred votes. With thousands left to be counted, it was as Survey USA said – a “jump ball.”
It still is. Only 971 votes separate third from first, with the top two candidates advancing to the general election.
But first is McGinn, with 26.58 percent of the votes counted thus far.
Second is T-Moble executive Joe Mallahan, with 25.77 percent.
Nickels, who in every poll was in first, was third and for the moment in danger of seeing a premature end to his tenure. He had 25.06 percent.
Again, Nickels was less than 400 votes behind Mallahan. But whereas Nickels’ support has remained steady, Mallahan and McGinn have been catching up.
In July, the KING/5-Survey USA poll showed Nickels with 26 percent of the vote, while McGinn and Mallahan were mired at 8 percent each. In the past 10 days, the poll showed McGinn in particular gaining momentum.
At Havana, a Capitol Hill bar where McGinn was having his election party, about a hundred crowded into the dark, hip club cheered when the results were flashed on a screen.
McGinn, at a parking lot outside the bar, looked emotional. What began as a somewhat quixotic pursuit to take on an incumbent mayor with a heavy campaign fund and an executive in Mallahan able to pump $200,000 into his own campaign now seemed like a real possibility.
He told his supporters the campaign – which focused on opposition to replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel – was based on the idea “that the people should decide what Seattle will become, not just the people with money.”
He acknowledged several days of vote counts still remain ahead, but said, “today we did a good thing.”
McGinn had been gaining momentum over the past few weeks. Ainsley Close, a McGinn volunteer, said the campaign had been seeing more and more people volunteering in the past few days. That trend, if it holds true among the last votes cast in the race, would bode well for McGinn.
At a more subdued, but hardly dour, Nickels campaign event at the United Food and Commercial Workers Hall in Sodo – an indication of the strong labor support that went after Mallahan for Nickels – the mayor said simply, “It’s close.”
Still, according to political wisdom, Nickels shouldn’t find himself awaiting the next few days of results. He is the incumbent, having raised several times as much money as McGinn. Nickels, in an interview in the parking lot, echoed his comments during an interview at the beginning of the campaign. “I think people are scared and grumpy,” he said. “And when you make decisions, you’re going to make some people unhappy.”
Publicola, the political blog, quoted Nickels as painting his opponents as negative Nellies. “If all you knew about Seattle was from listening to some of my opponents,” he said, “you’d think Seattle was a terrible place to live, a dying city, where nothing ever works. I think the opposite,” he said, calling it a vibrant city and “a great place to raise a family.”
Steve Williamson, director of the UFCW and a Nickels supporter, said a number of factors were at play. “Seattle can have a tendency to eat its own,” he said. Given the campaign occurred during the summer when many weren’t tuned in, he said, “It’s kind of an oddball election.”
Like others, supporters were focused on how well Nickels would do in the general election. In a one-on-one election, in the fall when people tend to pay closer attention to the race, Williamson said Nickels will do well.
Of course, Nickels has to get there first.
At his campaign event in Pioneer Square, Mallahan pointed to a last-minute negative attack from Nickels.
“Greg’s slur campaign seemed to hurt him more than me,” he declared, as supporters cheered. “Hey, we all knew we needed a change. We had 32 years of Greg’s service, but his way was the old way, and we needed to move away from that.”
Elections spokeswoman Megan Coppersmith said ballots received through Saturday – about half those cast, if projections hold true – were counted as of Tuesday. However, it’s impossible to tell how many more ballots will be received and counted in the next few days, she said.
A couple of factors may pull down the turnout. It’s August, when most minds aren’t turned to politics. Many voters also seem uncertain or uninspired by the candidates and may not vote. But indications are that many voters were turning in votes at the last minute. Ivar’s president Bob Donnegan said that when he went to drop off his ballot at the Ballard library, there were so many it was hard to put his in the box.
A late push could aid McGinn. If the Survey USA poll is accurate, the top three candidates – Nickels, Mallahan and McGinn – had pulled away from the pack in the 10 days since the last poll.
But according to Survey USA, McGinn gained slightly more momentum than the others. So if the poll accurately reflects the trend (and that’s a big if), McGinn might do better than the others in the very late votes that are counted over the next few days.
The poll showed that in the past 10 days ago, McGinn’s support rose 6 points, from 15 percent then to 21 percent now. Mallahan was up 3 points, from 19 percent to 22 percent. Nickels was up 4 points, from 22 percent to 26 percent.
On the other hand, Nickels spokesman Sandeep Kaushik said it’s difficult to tell. Much will depend on who is voting in these final days. McGinn does better with younger voters, who do not vote as often as older voters. Nickels and Mallahan do better than McGinn among older voters, according to the poll.
Mallahan spokeswoman Charla Neuman, though, said the more late voters who vote, the better it is for Mallahan, reasoning that Mallahan was able to reach more voters than McGinn through his television ads.
However, McGinn got a boost from volunteers such as Ben Scott-Killian. At McGinn’s event, he exemplified a sense from his supporters that McGinn, who is often seen riding his bike and has not been able to afford a campaign spokesman, is accessible. Noting he spoke with McGinn one-on-one, Scott-Killian said, “He doesn’t talk like a politician.”
Of course, that may change if McGinn is elected. But others such as Cleve Stockmeyer, who was a leader in Seattle’s monorail campaign, focused on McGinn’s opposition to replacing the viaduct with a tunnel. McGinn, like his supporters, oppose the idea of building a new highway to replace the old because it would mean spending money on car travel.
Nickels, on the other hand, believes a tunnel was a political compromise that was necessary to get it done. Nickels pointed out the tunnel would have four lanes instead of the six that now exist on the viaduct.
Stockmeyer also noticed the $4.3 million price tag and said: “McGinn has the best financial management plan. Nickels and Mallahan have a financial management plan that only AIG could love.”
McGinn, earlier on Tuesday, assessed things this way if there’s a low turnout.
He and his volunteers had been making calls to people who usually vote trying to get them to turn in ballots for him. But Mallahan and Nickels were both able to raise large sums of money and run television ads. “So that’s a larger universe of voters,” he said.
But on the other hand, he was aided by a profile in the Stranger that featured him on the cover. He said at a Columbia City street fair about a week ago that reaction had changed since the Stranger issue. When he would introduce himself before, people would smile politely in the way they do when they have no idea who you are.
Since then, they’ve had the wide-eyed look of someone meeting a potential future mayor. That, he said, might have given him a push with those late voters.
Another question is how the last-minute negative war, primarily between Nickels and Mallahan, may play out. Nickels released an ad going after Mallahan’s weakness – his relative inexperience in local civic issues.
Nickels cited the fact that Mallahan has often not voted in local elections, and the mayor laid out a number of factual inaccuracies Mallahan or his campaign has uttered.
Mallahan struck back, again going after Nickels’ own gaffes as mayor, particularly problems with the city’s Transportation Department in clearing snow during last year’s storm.
The exchanges laid out the probable battle plan of the candidates in the general election.
If paired against Nickels, either Mallahan or McGinn will go after the mayor’s missteps. McGinn in particular will go after the plan, supported by Nickels, to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel. McGinn considers it a waste of money. Mallahan, though, supports it, saying the plan agreed upon by the city, state, county and Port of Seattle is going to happen, anyway.
Essentially, whether McGinn survives the primary will determine if the city will again debate the tunnel again this fall.
Though Nickels’ showing Tuesday night – expected to be roughly around 25 percent – may bode poorly for a third term, Kaushik argues otherwise. “Essentially, it’s been a seven-on-one race in the primary. After tonight, it will be a head-to-head, one-on-one matchup. The psychology is different. Voters are going to look at the surviving two candidates.”
Kaushik said the Nickels campaign doesn’t care if it faces Mallahan or McGinn in the general election.
“They’re both deeply flawed candidates. Both have a real weakness. With McGinn, he’s a single-issue candidate with a fixation on the viaduct. There are more issues than that, including job creation.
“Mallahan has time and time again demonstrated a tissue-thin grasp of city issues. He has limited community involvement or engagement in civic issues. He has decided to pursue a career as a corporate vice president and embrace those corporate values as opposed to Nickels, who has demonstrated community values.”
However, a 2007 advisory vote found only 30 percent support for the tunnel plan, which seems like a good sign for McGinn.
Doesn’t matter, Kaushik said. “Look, the mayor of Seattle handles a whole range of issues from public safety, to the environment, to questions about labor issue and what things can you do to build community. Mike McGinn has not addressed any of those.”