In the final campaign weekend, some candidates are relying on strong ground games — dispatching platoons of volunteers to knock on doors and make phone calls. Others are bombarding mailboxes with pamphlets and yard signs.
Wednesday evening on Beacon Hill, a dozen supporters of Seattle mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver discussed an unusual challenge — too many volunteers.
“When it comes to other campaigns, I don’t think they have this many, so when it comes to volunteer coordination, the carry is a little easier,” Oliver campaign leader Jackie Mena said as the group talked about how to improve its tracking system.
“We’ve got 1,100-plus people at this point signed up,” added Mena, who was running the meeting. “We’ve got a robust network of people who want to feel connected.”
Only two candidates will advance past Tuesday’s primary to November’s general election. But for now, there are 21 mayoral campaigns, each with its own approach.
Some are relying on strong ground games — dispatching platoons of volunteers to knock on doors and make phone calls. Others are bombarding mailboxes with pamphlets, blanketing the city with yard signs and drumming up media attention.
“We’re down to the last week, when many people vote, so we’re reaching out to voters using the methods we consider most effective,” said former Mayor Mike McGinn, who won in 2009 with help from scores of young volunteers.
2017 Seattle mayoral race
- Jenny Durkan defeats Cary Moon to become Seattle’s first woman mayor since the 1920s
- Seattle's next mayor, Jenny Durkan, names full transition team, deputy mayors
- Seattle’s millionaire mayoral candidates say they know what it’s like to struggle
- Beyond tent-camp ‘sweeps,’ big questions await next Seattle mayor
- Seattle mayoral candidates both say the future holds fewer cars. Here’s how they would ease the crunch
- Cary Moon: Urbanist, waterfront activist touts vision for city, faces questions about résumé, accomplishments
- Jenny Durkan: Former U.S. attorney brings experience, high-powered allies, but also draws scrutiny
- Seattle’s first — and only — female mayor was elected in 1926
Inspiring less buzz in 2017, McGinn made headlines Thursday by criticizing Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, then spoke with voters in the Othello neighborhood.
This year, grass-roots enthusiasm for Oliver is boosting the 31-year-old educator, attorney and spoken-word artist — and testing the capacity of a Seattle Peoples Party campaign built by community activists rather than veterans of electoral politics.
“Even when I started organizing these meetings, I didn’t think I was going to be the person organizing these meetings …” Mena remembered.
Childhood home as HQ
Like Oliver, Bob Hasegawa has run an unconventional campaign. The state senator didn’t have a choice. Lawmakers are barred from accepting donations while the Legislature is in session, so he wasn’t able to raise money until July 20.
But Hasegawa, a Bernie Sanders delegate last year, now is seeking donors, making calls from the Beacon Hill house where he was raised and still lives.
“I haven’t seen you in ages. How have you been?” he asked a friend on the phone Tuesday afternoon. “Running for mayor, yeah … How’s your wife, by the way?”
To make do in May and June, Hasegawa loaned the campaign thousands of dollars. And he improvised, using tape to retrofit his old “Elect Hasegawa” yard signs, replacing “State Senate” with “Seattle Mayor.” New signs arrived this past week.
“To me, it was about showing you can put together a viable campaign without the big money,” the 64-year-old said. “But it does take some money. We just kicked it off.”
Donations are allowing the onetime Teamsters union leader to pay for the new signs, settle some debts and buy ads in ethnic and community newspapers, he said.
But his remains a modest campaign. Shoes and fliers were scattered across the floor in Hasegawa’s house Tuesday as a few volunteers prepared to knock on doors.
The team is translating campaign information into Spanish and Mandarin Chinese — the latter with help from Jasmine Zou. The Mercer Island teenager linked up with Hasegawa through Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs, where she interns.
“I really like it. I like politics,” said Zou, recalling an interaction with a voter in Ballard.
“We came across this woman with an adorable dog. We talked to her because of the dog, but she asked us what we were doing. We said we were passing out lit for Bob. She said, ‘Oh, my husband is a Teamster and we adore the guy.’ It was nice to hear.”
Familiarity and everyman appeal are strengths. Hasegawa isn’t popular among bike-riding urbanists; getting on his motorcycle he quipped, “I’m not one of those bike riders.”
“If Bob were running anywhere else, I don’t think he’d stand a chance,” campaign manager Michael Fertakis said. “But getting money out of politics and getting power back to the working class and the middle class — that resonates with people here.”
Ad buys and backyard talks
Former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan has raised by far the most money, piling up more than $450,000. With that cash, her campaign has been shipping out mailer after glossy mailer hitting issues such as affordable housing and police reform.
Neighborhood tours are part of her campaign, too. On Friday, she visited the Chinatown International District.
For Farrell, door-knocking also has been important. Focusing on likely voters, her campaign has made it to more than 18,000 doors, she said. Labor-union endorsers are stumping for her, as are Democratic Party stalwarts in hundreds of voting precincts.
“I’m really proud of those numbers,” Farrell said. “They could make a difference.”
Backed by less volunteer muscle than Oliver and less money than Durkan, Moon is talking to voters at backyard gatherings, light-rail stations and candidate forums.
“Her game isn’t a ground game,” acknowledged spokeswoman Heather Weiner.
“Grass-roots folks” are mostly campaigning for Oliver and Hasegawa,” Weiner said. But if Moon advances, “her plan includes hopefully getting a lot of them to work with her.”
McGinn has spent campaign cash this month almost exclusively on Facebook ads.
“We’re contacting people via email,” McGinn added. “We’re making phone calls. We’re using different techniques depending on who we’re trying to reach. Some of my people are door-knocking. You have to use all the tools — there’s no magic trick.”
With six better-known candidates enjoying most of the media attention in a race with no incumbent, several others are competing for a small but not insignificant bloc of conservative voters.
“I’m doing Republican events,” said Michael Harris, a video journalist and whale conservationist. “I went on with John Carlson, the king of conservative radio in Seattle.”
Harris believes many voters are sick of tax hikes. “I’m tapping into that,” he said.
Earlier this year, it looked like Mayor Ed Murray might jog to re-election. But his decision to drop out in May knocked the race for a loop and has transformed Oliver from underdog challenger into contender as the candidates sprint toward Tuesday.
Her campaign only recently began direct mail, a delay that could hurt her among reliable primary voters. Oliver volunteers have been registering people to vote and canvassing overlooked neighborhoods, they said.
Wrapping up Wednesday night at a “Natives for Nikkita” barbecue in Rainier Beach, the candidate described her campaign as special.
“We’ve raised $120,000 with no corporate donations as an independent saying the exact things I said before I started running,” she said before taking questions.
Back on Beacon Hill, meeting in a space called the Black Power Epicenter, Oliver backers said a diverse set of volunteers is extending the campaign’s reach.
Abby Lofley has organized support from the Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites, while Elizabeth Rueda Herrera has helped Oliver connect with Spanish-speaking voters through Fuerza Colectiva, the volunteers said.
Though Oliver sees signs of support from people of all ages and backgrounds, the candidate has extra pull with younger people and people from marginalized communities.
She lacks experience in government. But Rueda Herrera said many supporters see themselves in the candidate.
“There’s just so much energy around the campaign, around what Nikkita represents for so many of us,” the 23-year-old said.