The re-election hopes of Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn — outmatched in fundraising and down in the polls — may rest on a clattering sound inside his Chinatown International District campaign headquarters.
On an afternoon last week, about 30 phone-bank volunteers shook rattles every minute or so — sending cheers through the room at the signal they’d reached another confirmed McGinn voter.
The energetic operation is part of the much hyped McGinn get-out-the-vote effort, which his supporters insist will turn out enough votes to fight off his formidable challenger, state Sen. Ed Murray.
But Murray’s campaign is by no means conceding the get-out-the-vote ground advantage to the mayor.
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At his Capitol Hill campaign office, Murray has had his own crew of dedicated volunteers calling voters for months, as well as stepping up door-to-door canvassing in recent weeks.
The Murray operation — which had more than 20 volunteers making calls on a night last week — is guided by field organizers who sharpened their craft working on last year’s successful statewide campaign to legalize same-sex marriage.
Exactly how much difference the so-called “ground game” can make is hard to gauge. But with the debates over and ads running their course, campaigns don’t want to leave any votes on the table when ballot counting starts Tuesday.
The last mayoral race in 2009 was decided by about 7,200 votes out of 206,000 cast. King County elections officials estimate 57 percent voter turnout in Seattle this year.
Many political observers have long written McGinn off, citing polls that have shown him failing to shake an image as a habitual political brawler.
“I think it’s over. I don’t know that it was ever not over. The voters decided a long time ago that they didn’t want to retain Mr. McGinn,” said Ron Dotzauer, a longtime Democratic political strategist whose lobbying firm, Strategies 360, released a poll on Oct. 21 showing Murray with a 17 percentage-point lead.
Monisha Harrell, who ran the unsuccessful mayoral campaign of her uncle, City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, said McGinn’s team has proved “very tenacious — they are working very hard.”
But Harrell said this year’s election is different from 2009, when McGinn was a relatively unknown underdog.
“We’re at a point now where we actually have four years of experience to evaluate,” she said, noting the difficulty for a well-known incumbent to change voters’ impressions.
Still, the mayor’s loyalists hope he can pull out an upset again.
John Wyble, McGinn’s political consultant, said the campaign hopes to turn out a substantial number of voters who don’t reliably vote in off-year elections, specifically voters under 50 years old.
With a hair-trigger sense of outrage and a swarming presence on social media, McGinn’s supporters have seized every opportunity to portray the mayor as a hero of the people and Murray as a tool of corporate interests.
McGinn’s campaign seemed to hit a nerve Friday and Saturday, when Murray — after a week of getting beat up over his campaign contributions from Comcast and a series of campaign robocalls from Planned Parenthood — held two news conferences to fight back.
Saturday, flanked by Planned Parenthood volunteers, Murray accused McGinn’s campaign of “harassment” and “cyberbullying” because McGinn supporters posted a Planned Parenthood staff member’s cellphone number on Facebook.
Murray said he had to speak out against the posting, but also said he thinks polls have overestimated his advantage. “I don’t think we’re that far ahead,” he said.
McGinn himself continued to take shots at Murray for failing to outline much of a distinction on policy issues.
“The only thing foggier than the weather in the last month has been Senator Murray’s vision for the future,” McGinn said.
McGinn also has pointed to accomplishments such as doubling of a city education levy, a low unemployment rate and low citywide crime rates.
Murray, meanwhile, has emphasized McGinn’s numerous clashes with other political leaders — conflicts Murray argues have been unnecessary and harmful to Seattle’s interests.
Murray’s supporters say he’ll end such pointless drama, pointing to the regional relationships he’s forged during 18 years in the state Legislature, including leadership roles in major transportation packages and gay civil-rights campaigns.
“He has a lot of friends. That is going to serve this city very well,” said former Seattle City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck at a lightly attended rally for Murray in Ballard last week.
Murray said the city has huge challenges ahead, including crumbling streets and growing income inequality. “We’re only going to be able to address those challenges if we come together, if we work together,” he said.
The boiler-room operations of the candidates in the final days are in some ways very similar, but also reflect the distinct styles of the rival camps.
At the Murray campaign headquarters in a rundown, under-renovation building on Pike Street, volunteers work just a couple doors from where Seattle organizers ran the field operation for the 2012 campaign to legalize gay marriage — Murray’s signature accomplishment.
Posters on the wall urged volunteers to “smile while you dial” and to “be genuine.”
A handout of talking points highlighted Murray’s commitment to public safety and said he would invest in transit and other city services to create walkable and bikeable neighborhoods.
The handout also contained suggested criticisms of McGinn, hitting his decision to eliminate the city’s domestic-violence office and blaming the mayor for the city’s “crumbling” roads and sidewalks.
The volunteers, using cellphones plugged into laptops with software that auto-dials voters, ranged from high-school students doing the work for class credit to people who’ve benefited from Murray’s clout in Olympia.
Cheri Marusa drove from her home in Cle Elum, Kittitas County, to help out, grateful for Murray’s help in getting funding for volunteer firefighter and emergency medical-technician services along Interstate 90.
“When Ed says he’ll address and solve a problem, I’ve seen him do it over and over again,” she said.
At McGinn’s campaign headquarters, a row of bikes lean against a wall plastered with notecards giving personal, handwritten reasons for re-electing the mayor — they ranged from “we need good union jobs” to “he’s my dad.”
McGinn’s volunteers last week included a diverse group of minority activists as well as younger, Twitter-savvy supporters tapping away on laptops. Phone scripts for the volunteers included versions in Vietnamese and Tagalog.
Like Murray, McGinn taps support from people who’ve benefited from his power to direct public funds.
Eddie Abellera, president of the International Drop-In Center on Beacon Hill, said McGinn has shown he cares about senior citizens who use the nonprofit facility by directing city funding.
“I feel that Mayor McGinn has worked hard for Filipino Americans here in Seattle,” Abellera said between phone calls.
Staff reporter Emily Heffter contributed to this report. Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner