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Seattle’s general-election matchup between Mayor Mike McGinn and state Sen. Ed Murray will test two competing rules of local politics.

Rule No. 1: An incumbent who takes less than one-third of the primary vote is doomed.

Rule No. 2: In recent competitive mayoral contests, Seattle voters have rejected the guy backed by the downtown business establishment.

The first rule argues McGinn is an underdog as the three-month race to the Nov. 5 election begins. The second suggests a potential pitfall for Murray despite his long record as a liberal legislator.

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As of Friday, with most of the ballots counted, Murray was in first place with about 30 percent of the vote, to McGinn’s second-place 28 percent finish.

While the two were separated by only about 2,000 votes, conventional wisdom holds that Murray stands to pick up most of the anti-McGinn vote that went to other challengers in the primary.

Political consultant Cathy Allen, who worked on the unsuccessful mayoral campaign of former councilmember Peter Steinbrueck, declared the race Murray’s to lose.

Allen cited Murray’s “powerful, well greased field operation” and “a money machine I myself cannot see the bottom of.”

But counting McGinn out would be a mistake, said Matt Barreto, associate professor of political science at the University of Washington.

“While a lot of people have underestimated McGinn, I think he still has a reasonable chance in November,” Barreto said, noting that Murray did not blow out the mayor in the primary.

One key will be whether the other top primary-election contenders, Steinbrueck and City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, throw their support behind Murray or McGinn, Barreto said. So far, neither has committed, although Harrell said Tuesday night the primary results prove voters “want change and a new mayor, too.”

Two liberal candidates

Murray is likely to maintain a big money advantage. He tapped 18 years of connections as a state legislator and leader in the fight for gay civil rights to raise $425,000 before the primary. A largely business-backed PAC threw in an additional $134,000 to support him.

By comparison, McGinn raised $286,000 and was buoyed by two union PACs that raised more than $65,000 to support his re-election.

But McGinn has shown he’ll wield the powers of incumbency to offset the fundraising disadvantage. His official office deluged the media with a pre-primary barrage of news conferences and he energized his progressive activist base when he moved to block a planned Whole Foods store in West Seattle, siding with a union over wage concerns.

McGinn’s Whole Foods maneuver hints at the second rule of Seattle politics: In recent close mayoral contests, the candidate who runs to the left wins.

It worked for Greg Nickels in 2001, when he defeated then-City Attorney Mark Sidran. And it worked for McGinn in 2009, when he defeated businessman Joe Mallahan, who outspent him nearly three-to-one.

Outside the bubble of Seattle politics it may be hard to see how Murray could be portrayed as anything close to a conservative choice for mayor. But that is one line of attack being launched by McGinn supporters.

“It’s bizzaro land. They’re trying to make him look conservative, which he’s not at all,” said David Meinert, a Seattle music promoter and restaurant owner who has been long involved in local politics. (Meinert gave $250 to McGinn’s campaign in 2011 but has criticized McGinn’s attack on Whole Foods and donated $700 to Murray’s campaign last month.)

Since 1995, Murray has represented the 43rd Legislative District, which includes the core liberal Seattle neighborhoods of Capitol Hill, the University District and Fremont. He has a 95 percent lifetime rating from the Washington State Labor Council and a 94 percent lifetime rating from the environmental group Washington Conservation Voters. He’d also be Seattle’s first openly gay mayor.

Nevertheless, McGinn’s backers are working to portray Murray as an establishment politician who is a tool of downtown business interests, pointing to his endorsement by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and his criticism of the mayor’s anti-Whole Foods campaign.

McGinn’s campaign has also questioned the substance of Murray’s campaign, noting he has attacked the mayor as divisive but hasn’t said much about his own agenda for City Hall.

“I feel like we’re running against kind of nothing, I don’t know what the guy believes, I don’t know where he stands,” said John Wyble, McGinn’s political consultant.

Ugly campaign ahead?

In an interview with the Seattle Weekly in June, Murray predicted a matchup between him and McGinn would be “the ugliest campaign Seattle has ever seen.”

Both campaigns have foreshadowed that the coming months will be marked by attacks — even personal ones.

Wyble has taken to publicly blogging about Murray’s supporters, slamming them for “name calling, grasping at straws” and “sophomoric quips.”

“There is a tone on that campaign … a lack of respect,” Wyble said in an interview. “It’s like ‘how dare you try to run again, it’s Ed’s anointment.’ ”

Sandeep Kaushik, a political consultant and spokesman for Murray’s campaign, rejected the idea Murray is taking the race for granted.

He predicted Murray will start the general election race behind in the polls, because he has still not been introduced to the more than half of Seattle voters who sat out the primary.

Kaushik argued the McGinn campaign’s effort to exaggerate the ideological space between the mayoral rivals is more evidence of his penchant for stoking conflict.

“We’ve seen it in how he actually governs, by setting up this contest where he says I am purer than you, I am more progressive than you are,” Kaushik said. “It’s those conflicts that the mayor sets up that are the reason so many voters are interested in change.”

But while McGinn’s brawling political style has certainly earned him enemies over the past few years, it could also prove a wild card in his favor in the coming months.

Even Allen, the political consultant who predicts a likely Murray win, acknowledged: “This town likes scrappers, they like underdogs.”

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or On Twitter @Jim_Brunner

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