It would be ironic if the uber expensive, cash and digital advertising-infused, about as dirty as Seattle political fighting gets District 3 race came down to an old-fashioned “get out the vote” push but that didn’t stop both campaigns duking it out until Tuesday’s 8 PM ballot deadline from rolling out a busy weekend of action across Capitol Hill and the surrounding neighborhoods.
As pamphlet after pamphlet and canvasser after canvasser spread across the neighborhoods, incumbent Kshama Sawant and challenger Egan Orion continued to draw national attention as they battle in a contentious and costly race that serves in many ways as a microcosm for the rest of the city.
For Sawant, the push meant a Saturday morning rally at Capitol Hill’s Chop Suey with what the campaign said were over 160 volunteers that then spent the afternoon at 20 stations across the neighborhood they see as a hub of untapped voters for their Socialist Alternative incumbent fighting for her political life.
One organizer said that only 13% of the Capitol Hill Sawant supporters they’ve identified had voted just three days before the election.
“There are literally thousands of people out there that we need to reach,” Sawant said Saturday. “Many of our people haven’t voted yet, so this weekend is extremely crucial.”
Orion’s campaign was similarly trying to reach voters on North Capitol Hill when CHS visited its 21st and Union office Saturday afternoon.
Harrison Louie, an Orion field organizer, sees the neighborhood specifically as an underperforming area for the campaign. That’s why the campaign has been phone banking twice a day from their CD headquarters and occasional satellite offices in Montlake and on Capitol Hill, calling about 1,200 phones each day for the past 10 days. Louie, who notes that no outreach effort will beat the effectiveness of door-knocking, says the contact rate for answers on these calls is about 20%.
The campaign thinks though that having volunteers calling their own neighbors is an effective way to turn out voters for Orion, who jokes to one supporter as they leave the office, “Just a 10 minute break and back to work.”
Louie also says that the campaign is sparingly trying out text banking as well, which he says can allow them to reach 15,000 voters in a day.
Some Seattleites are getting restless though. One sign spotted on a door said “campaign fliers go straight to recycle bin.” Even Louie, a D3 resident, says that the dozen or so pieces of campaign mail he’s gotten in the past couple weeks is “wasteful.”
— Robert Cruickshank (@cruickshank) November 2, 2019
The ground game has been so robust in this race that Sawant field organizer Greyson Van Arsdale notes that Sawant canvassers even sometimes run into Orion volunteers while door-knocking.
Unlike Sawant’s troops, the Orion camp sees their base in more affluent neighborhoods, like Leschi from which they’ve had an influx of volunteers. Some of the socialist’s team call this part of the “Gold Coast.”
The Orion squad also criticized the Sawant campaign for their geographical focus. They say the opposing campaign has put too much of its focus on Capitol Hill, arguing that many voices — especially people of color in the Central District — are being overlooked by the incumbent with near universal name recognition in Seattle but who still received less than 37% of the primary vote in August.
“We’re not leaving any rock unturned,” Orion campaign manager Olga Laskin said.
As of Friday morning, there had been 1,176 ballots returned to the Seattle Central College drop box in D3 since opening on Oct. 17. Another 474 had been received at Garfield Community Center.
The last few days of the election, the Sawant campaign has been doing all-day voter outreach at Garfield Community Center, Cal Anderson Park, and Judkins Park.
The Orion team has been doing sign waving in the mornings and early evenings at busy intersections, like Boyer and 24th — which they hit on Friday — and Jackson and 23rd.
Out of over 74,000 D3 registered voters, under 15,000 have already returned their ballots, as of noon on Saturday. D3 had 34,300 ballots returned for the August primary, so with less than half of that counted just days before the election, the campaigns see these last days of outreach as mightily important with locals putting off voting as long as possible.
Louie says that if the turnout is similar to the primary, that would be a good sign for the Orion campaign.
Meanwhile, Van Arsdale said that low voter turnout could spell trouble for the incumbent’s campaign.
“In a sense, we’re not running against Egan Orion, we’re running against complacency,” Van Arsdale said before Saturday’s rally.
That being said, Van Arsdale argues that Amazon’s recent million dollar contribution to the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee turned out a lot of Sawant supporters that were sitting on the sidelines figuring that she would win, adding that the day after that controversial move was the campaign’s biggest day for getting new volunteers.
“It’s visceral,” Van Arsdale said of the reaction to the tech giant’s contribution. When Sawant brought up Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in her speech Saturday morning, one volunteer shouted, “Fuck that guy.”
A few of the volunteers at Saturday’s event were doing outreach on behalf of Sawant for the first time.
Orion and Sawant have raised far more money than any other council candidates this year, bringing in nearly $395,000 and over $500,000, respectively, according to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission. On top of that, hundreds of thousands have been spent independently for voter outreach in support of Orion, who planned to spend Sunday morning at a homeless encampment cleanup.
Louie and Orion say that this outside money has muddled their campaign’s message more than anything, adding that it’s harder to carry out their get out the vote efforts with other groups reaching the same voters.
“Our conversations will be better than people doing it independent” of the campaign, Louie said. “I’d prefer to be the only one calling.” Orion added that he wished his closing message of the cycle wasn’t distracted by the noise around the tech giant’s $1 million contribution to the Chamber’s PAC.
Orion claimed this weekend that he doesn’t disagree with his opponent’s values and posed the race as between “two progressives pushing the city to be better.” At a recent candidate forum, he said, “I’m appalled by the level of money that special interests, whether they be the labor union PACs or big business or otherwise, how much they’re pouring into this race.”
Van Arsdale says that with this much in independent expenditures affecting the race, it’s hard to feel truly confident about the incumbent’s chances. Sawant echoed this point, saying “the outcome of this election is not going to be whose opinion favors us, it’s whose ballots are being counted.”
Election Day for Orion will be mostly about visibility so as many people as possible can see his name before drop boxes close at 8 PM that night.
Compared to the vocal network that Sawant has built in this city this decade, the challenger was at a vast disadvantage in terms of outreach infrastructure coming out of the primary. The campaign has grown from just a few volunteers as they struggled to stand out in an expansive field over the spring and most of the summer to one that has built a volunteer base that they say has grown exponentially since August.
This is a foundation that has allowed them to hit thousands and thousands of voters in the district two or three times over. When asked if he was nervous, Orion held out an unshaking hand.
“We’ve done everything possible, we’ll rest easily on Tuesday.”
More D3 Coverage
- A battle over Amazon? Sawant vs. Orion in their own words on District 3 issues — housing, homelessness, public safety, and the environment
- Starbucks hosting ‘Wake Up and Vote’ event at Central District cafe
- Di$trict 3: $500/month for a Central District office? Campaign supplies from Amazon? Why did Sawant pay more than Orion for similar ad?
HELP KEEP CHS 'PAY WHAT YOU CAN' FOR EVERYONE -- SUBSCRIBE TODAY! Support local journalism dedicated to your neighborhood. SUBSCRIBE HERE. Join to become a subscriber at $1/$5/$10 a month to help CHS provide community news with NO PAYWALL. You can also sign up for a one-time annual payment.