It was a tale of two districts.
To the east and north were the wealthier homeowners of North Capitol Hill, Madrona, Montlake, and Broadmoor, where voters picked the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce-backed Egan Orion.
Meanwhile, in the more densely populated Broadway and Pike/Pine cores and the Central District, residents sided with the re-election of socialist Seattle City Council incumbent Kshama Sawant.
While the path to victory in 2019 included a dramatic shift from Election Night totals, Sawant’s win, in the end, looks extremely familiar.
To Erin Schultz, a consultant that worked on the Orion campaign, the voting distribution of District 3 looks like what Sawant saw in 2015 as she defeated Pamela Banks for the seat.
“The mapped results are similar to results Sawant has gotten in every election, but we were obviously hoping to close the narrow gap, especially after the Primary performance,” Schultz said in an email. She believes that Amazon’s late $1 million contribution turned the election into a “referendum on corporate influence in elections rather than solutions to addressing homelessness, improving affordability, and the many other issues our city is struggling with.”
You can see the Election Night maps compiled by Lubarsky for all the districts here.
This could have led to increased turnout in the most progressive parts like the 10,000 voter strong Broadway area, where Sawant took nearly 2,800 more votes than her competitor, according to an analysis by political consultant Ben Anderstone.
“The biggest narrative here was how unsurprising so many of the results are,” political consultant Ben Anderstone added. “Historically, the areas that Sawant did well in were areas that she did well in in the past.”
Anderstone did note that he thinks these election results show income driving voting patterns a little more, which isn’t surprising given the context of the campaign.
Sawant and her calls for rent control as well as other far-left policies did best in the most dense parts of D3. In the CD, she beat Orion by almost 1,700 votes. She took the Atlantic neighborhood by over 27% and won the 15th Avenue corridor on Capitol Hill by 15%.
On the other hand, the Broadway Business Improvement Area head took places like Madison Valley by almost 60% and Broadmoor by a staggering 95%. But these Orion strongholds simply didn’t have enough voters for the challenger to maintain his Election Night lead.
When CHS visited the Orion campaign office in early November as the team was making its last push to get out the vote, they were focused on reaching voters in North Capitol Hill. That work appeared to pay off with him taking over two-thirds of the vote in that neighborhood.
Orion was able to break Sawant’s Capitol Hill wall by winning one northern precinct with 190 votes compared to the incumbent’s 160.
But another change from 2015 was also at play. The areas of Sawant’s strongest support also coincide with the district’s core of new housing development and population growth. For now, the result appears to be more Sawant-friendly voters. Whether that mix holds as development continues will be part of the story behind future elections.
The Sawant camp, of course, knew its base. The weekend and hours leading up to the Election Night 8 PM deadline brought a heavy presence from Sawant campaigns workers and volunteers as both campaigns waged last minute get out the vote pushes. The first thing thousands of riders exiting onto Broadway from Capitol Hill Station that Tuesday was a table of information and volunteers from the Socialist Alternative campaign imploring passersby to vote for their candidate.
The last few days of the election, the Sawant campaign was in all-day voter outreach mode at Garfield Community Center, Cal Anderson Park, and Judkins Park. 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.
Sawant’s work on issues close to the Socialist Alternative movement also won attention, supporters, and, yes, critics through the summer including a high profile push to save the Showbox, heavy involvement in tenant issues at the Central District’s Chateau Apartments, and an effort to push back on displacement of 12th Ave Ethiopian restaurant, Saba.
Last summer after the council’s more moderate approach to implementing a head tax failed, Sawant pivoted to focus on a “Tax Amazon” movement. Then, with echoes of her long and successful “$15 Now” fight, Sawant made rent control the next big step in the Socialist Alternative movement and the new core in the battles she is waging in Seattle. CHS reported here on her proposed legislation that would tie increased rents to the rate of inflation.
Sawant also repeatedly attacked Orion on housing and homelessness, accusing him of using the same tactics as people who are “peddling Republican talking points.” Sawant focused her response on homelessness on larger issues of housing affordability and social housing, rent control, the expansion of tiny home villages, and the end of sweeps of encampments.
Orion couldn’t make up needed ground. Anderstone pointed to Madrona as one upper middle class neighborhood where Orion did well, but not as well as he needed to for securing the victory. Sawant received 39% there. In one Madrona precinct, Orion won by just 13 votes and more than 250 registered voters stayed home, according to a map created by Zach Lubarsky.
In the map, the darker the green, the wider the margin for Sawant. The lighter the green, the wider the margin for Orion.
Sawant’s numbers did go down from 2015 in the gated residential community of Broadmoor, where she garnered 6% against Banks but only around 2% this year, according to Anderstone’s analysis.
The best barometers for who would win this race, Anderstone says, could be found in the margins of the transitional areas between the younger, renter-heavy parts of Capitol Hill and the Central District and the more single-family home-owning parts of those neighborhoods.
“It’s really kind of those precincts that are on the dividing line,” he said. “You really want to look at neighborhoods where those wealthier, home-owning demographics co-mingle with the younger renter-heavy demographics and where you get a divided mix of the two is where you get your swing precincts.”
Anderstone also noted areas like First Hill with a mix of senior citizens, condominium owners, and renters as having a similar purpose. Sawant won First Hill by a little under 14%.
Another analysis — above — published by Jason Weill shows the gains won among “late voters” tallied in the counts following Election Night.
Across the city, Anderstone found few hyperlocal surprises, but he compares the Sawant 4% win result to the re-election of Council member Lisa Herbold in West Seattle, where she won by almost a dozen points, despite having similar constituencies. Herbold, according to Anderstone, is less polarizing, she gets a higher level of support from upper middle class voters, and her district is more moderate than D3.
“Candidates in individual races still mattered here,” he said. “Despite the fact that there were definitely seams going on that kind of made this a referendum election on Amazon, on the city council at large, it still mattered who the individual candidates were and what their profiles were and I think that got lost a little bit at times.”
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