Post Election Break Down Part 1

Post Election Break Down Part 1

This week Crystal is joined for part one of a post-election breakdown by Executive Director of America Walks and former mayor of Seattle Mike McGinn, Managing Partner of Upper Left Strategies Michael Charles, and Co-Founder of the Mercury Group and former Colleen Echohawk campaign consultant, Bill Broadhead! They discuss the irony of Bruce Harrell running as an “outsider” candidate, the importance of having a powerful message and transmitting it effectively to the voters, and why the Seattle political establishment doesn’t necessarily reflect the changing demographics of Seattle.

About the Guests

Find Bill Broadhead on Twitter/X at @billbroadhead, Michael Charles at @mikeychuck, and Mike McGinn at @mayormcginn.


“Harrell is Seattle’s next mayor, after González concedes” by David Kroman from Crosscut:

“Election results for Seattle and King County 2021 races” by Crosscut Staff from Crosscut:

“No incumbent in Seattle mayoral race, but candidates still running against City Hall” by Daniel Beekman from The Seattle Times:

“‘In This House,’ Seattle Votes for the Status Quo” by Erica C. Barnett from Publicola:

“PAC spending in Seattle elections tops $3 million with late surge in real estate, business money” by Daniel Beekman from The Seattle Times:

“We Have a Culture War…in the Seattle City Attorney’s Race?” by Benjamin Cassidy from The Seattle Met:

“Progresses on the ropes? 5 takeaways from Seattle’s election night returns” by Jim Brunner and David Gutman from The Seattle Times:


[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at and in our episode notes.

Well, hello everyone - this is Hacks & Wonks. I'm your host, Crystal Fincher. I'm also a political consultant, and we thought we would get together today to talk about the election results. I am joined by Bill Broadhead, Mike McGinn, Michael Charles. I'll let each one of them introduce themselves and talk a little bit about the work that they're doing. And then we will hop into talking about the races. I will go ahead and start with Michael Charles.

[00:01:10] Michael Charles: Thanks Crystal for having me again - I appreciate it. My name is Michael Charles. I am the managing partner of Upper Left Strategies. We were fortunate enough to have some great candidates this cycle involved in these races. And yeah, we're just excited to be here. Thanks for having me.

[00:01:29] Crystal Fincher: And Mike McGinn.

[00:01:31] Mike McGinn: Mike McGinn - I am currently the Executive Director of America Walks. I've been a long time advocate in the City of Seattle around climate and active transportation and equity and community - and was once a mayor, too.

[00:01:48] Crystal Fincher: And - yeah, once a mayor, little stint as that. Bill Broadhead.

[00:01:55] Bill Broadhead: Hi, I'm Bill Broadhead. I run Mercury, here in Seattle, with my wife, Julie McCoy. We've been going since '97 working for a variety of progressive candidates and causes.

[00:02:10] Crystal Fincher: Let's talk about Seattle - City of Seattle - first off. There's a lot to talk about, but let's start with the mayoral race. Is anyone surprised with how it says - with how the results turned out?

[00:02:30] Mike McGinn: Maybe the depth of it - maybe I'm surprised by the depth of it only. How, and again, it's - I don't want to be - we know that the late votes swing, and if you just react to the initial night's votes, you're not reading the final vote. Votes historically - to swing as much as 9% or 10% is pretty big. I think Kshama got up to a 13 point swing one time, but we're looking at a 30 point difference right now, or a 29 point difference. So, maybe this year it's a bigger swing because it's more polarized. Maybe it's a smaller swing because there wasn't a strong close to the campaign. But it sure doesn't look like it's going to be a 29 or a 30 point swing from election night. And that, to me - the depth of the defeat - to some degree is surprising.

I thought from the very beginning - and we can talk about why - but I thought from the very beginning, and I think I was on Hacks & Wonks more than a few months ago, just saying that a long time City Councilmember running this year in a right - with the wrong track where it was - and this has nothing to do with Lorena González as a person. I like her. She's a wonderful progressive. But running as an incumbent in a wrong track year is a really, really hard place to be. And that's what she was doing. So I thought - I am not surprised with the outcome at all.

[00:03:59] Crystal Fincher: What about you, Michael?

[00:04:04] Michael Charles: I felt like, similar to what Mike pointed out - just the idea of - the being the representation of kind of the current establishment was difficult to overcome. And I think Bruce did a really good job of proving himself to be the outsider when, I mean, in some odd way, that's really what it like flipped felt like - was it was the current establishment versus an outsider candidate. And I typically think elections boil down to change or more of the same, and this was a change election. And oddly enough, the old City Councilmember that'd been there for a long time was the change candidate. But, just given the circumstances and the context, that's how it turned out in my opinion, so -

[00:04:53] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I mean, I also think the messaging was really - was interesting, and actually contrary to what really happened. Certainly candidates were trying to message themselves as representative of change and a new vision. But, I actually think that given where we are at currently with Mayor Durkan, it was really a status quo versus a different direction. And it looks like we are sticking with the status quo.

[00:05:29] Bill Broadhead: I got to tell you - the status quo got re-elected last night, and nobody would've known it from the campaigns that were run. I mean that's the depressingly ironic thing about this entire cycle for all of us - is we got the third term of Murray, Durkan, and now Harrell. And Harrell ran as a change candidate. And I don't know how the left allowed that to happen, and honestly, how González's campaign allowed that to happen, but it was flat out political malpractice. And now we're going to have to endure another four years of these shitty policies because of it. And I'm pissed - I really am. I got to tell you, as a citizen - long time citizen of Seattle - as somebody that watches people have to sleep through another fricking winter in these tents and parks and live outside, I'm mad. I'm just mad. People say, "Well, you were right." You know, we did the Echohawk campaign on this whole thesis - that an incumbent like González in a record wrong track environment was going to do really poorly. And yeah, we were right, but it's - it really pains me to be right about that.

[00:06:52] Crystal Fincher: Well, and I'm wondering about this in the context also of the City Council and City Attorney race in Seattle, where we see results that are closer than they are in the mayoral race, but still further behind. And interesting in those, especially as I look at it, there are a couple things, I think structurally, that we don't talk about often enough. One, winning a citywide election is a lot different than winning a districted election. And the citywide elections favor the establishment, they favor big money - because it is really expensive and hard to communicate with over 225,000 voters, certainly. And to get your message across to all of them - it's really expensive to do, because there aren't many avenues of doing that for free. So that sets things up where we see over half a million dollars being spent on the more moderate and conservative side - more than on the side of the progressives. And we see that repeat itself over and over again. And it's certainly, in the mayoral years, is more pronounced than in the years where we just have City Council elections and when they're districted. What was your take on both of those races, Michael Charles?

[00:08:16] Michael Charles: Yeah. I mean, you point out the money situation, and I think that's important from one perspective for sure - that there's a lot of people spending a lot of money for the moneyed interests, which is typical of elections here. But, I also thought it was kind of disappointing to see the progressive candidates not really spend as much money, or at least even a proportional amount of their money on direct voter contact in the general election. I thought that while some of these attacks were - they were executed well, I thought - they were also, and you could have anticipated a lot of it, and should have been prepared and spent money to be ready to answer those questions, to talk, to keep the public conversation going. And it felt heavily one-sided in each of those conversations. It was - all the money felt like it was being spent either anti-Nikkita or anti-NTK. It didn't feel like there was any response publicly going on - whether it be in the news, or none of it directly addressed any of the accusations. And I just thought there wasn't money put - spent in the right places - to keep it competitive in those races. And I think, as we continue to see the numbers trickle in, I think we're - it's going to be a lot closer than we think it was on Election Night for a couple of those races. And I think within the margin - if we had maybe stronger campaigns run - that possibly we could have won still.

[00:09:47] Crystal Fincher: What do you think, Mike McGinn?

[00:09:49] Mike McGinn: Well, races start with an underlying dynamic. And I think there was an underlying dynamic here of tremendous frustration over the homelessness issue in the City of Seattle. And a candidate had to have a plan about that - and I think this is where we're looking at - essentially being the incumbent. Now, if Jenny Durkan were on the ballot this year, she would've been in huge trouble, right? Because, not getting it done, right? The homelessness problem is getting worse. All of that energy had to find a place to land. And it landed on Lorena's campaign because she was the closest thing - she was the incumbent in the race in a change year. And so that made it very hard to make the race about something else. And that's the point I want to make here about money - is Lorena had a lot of money. Labor put a lot of money into an IEC and she had money. And, maybe NTK and Nikkita did not have the same amounts of money, but it became a race about how the left was - progressives were too ideological and weren't effective at governance.

And the Nicole Thomas-Kennedy tweets fed that story of being too ideological in some way, or not serious about governance. And that was the story as ballots were dropping - there was no other story in the media right then. Campaigns have to be about something - and I don't want to make it sound like it's easy to make it about something. You can try - because the other side's trying to make it about something too. Your side's trying to make it about something, the other side's trying to make it about something. And you fight it out with money and earned media and people knocking on doors. But, our side had enough money to get a message out about something, but we didn't have a something to get out because we were stuck with kind of defending the status quo policies. I mean, Lorena was in a position of her homelessness policy was - well, we've passed the JumpStart Tax. We're trying to invest more in shelter. We're in fact - we're on it, we're already taking care of it. And that's just not going to be an effective message at - where there was that level of anger and discomfort.

So the other side had a plan for homelessness and we hate the plan. I hate the plan and think maybe everybody else here does - we're going to sweep the parks, we're going to prosecute poor people. And we're going to be compassionate about it - we're not terrible people, we're all Democrats - that's our plan. And they had the virtue of plan beats no plan, the way it worked out, where the anger could land on that plan as sounding like there was something more serious about it than what was being presented. So again, I think we weren't - after the years of the policies we've had, and the problem metastasizing and getting worse, and more people being in distress and greater difficulty of not scaling to meet the scale of the problem. That could have been the framing - that it wasn't getting done by the people in power. Well, that was the framing - it's not getting done by the people in the power and the left are in power.

And there was no alternative frame to be made in this race. In fact, the race was run very much on - I'll stop talking in a second - the race was very much run on the fact of resumé, of who was the most progressive. And I think this is a - I mean, that wins you the primary - because the most progressive wins you The Stranger, but the most progressive doesn't win you the general, because that doesn't get you there. You got to be talking about something that hits the voters hard enough. And we just didn't have something on our side - like Kshama had $15 an hour when she won citywide - that was really hitting people like, Okay, I can get behind that. Now granted, she may have a lot of trouble this year, but she's been in office a number of years. But I think that we just - races have to be about something and we didn't have a something on our side that was really compelling, or we're united from top to bottom. And so they won the framing battle.

[00:14:03] Bill Broadhead: Yeah, I got to be honest. I still don't know what Lorena González's message was. I mean, other than that she was a child of migrant farmworkers from the East side. I really don't know what her message was.

[00:14:18] Crystal Fincher: And I certainly have heard that from other people. I wonder though - it's such an interesting race, right? And, Mike McGinn, you talked about - this is a change election. To me, it's very Seattle - in that, there's messaging about change, right? There's messaging about all the progressive buzzwords that are being used by more moderate and conservative candidates. And almost the - please make me feel better about voting for a more moderate or conservative candidate by peppering it in all this progressive language, right? And, so we're going to stick with what we're doing policy-wise, because I still haven't heard anyone articulate how the Harrell administration on policy is going to be substantively different than a Durkan administration - except for perhaps a lack of scandal that the Durkan administration has had. I notice there's a rehab effort to try and pepper over - but anyway, I think that that's part of the thing that we keep on seeing with Murray, with Durkan, with Harrell. Same group of donors, same group of supporters, same type of - let's just talk like and try and sound like our opponent, and try and claim that lane. And I do think the spending still made a difference in this thing. Yes, Lorena had quite a bit of money, not as much as the Harrell campaign - but in terms of spending on direct voter communication, you're still talking again - over a half million dollar deficit on the other side. So I mean we're - when there's that much on the airwaves and there's not much being done to combat that message, and then attempts to combat that message don't land and backfire, this is where you land.

[00:16:17] Bill Broadhead: But, Crystal, we can't, in my opinion, we can't keep falling back to, Well, they have more money. They're always going to have more money. Always. Like if that's our excuse for losing, we might as well just get used to it, because they're always going to have more money. And the fact is - is that I'd rather have a message than money. I mean, because you know -

[00:16:42] Crystal Fincher: Well, we're talking to people who work with a message and less money. We have several people on this call - I think all of us are used to winning with lower budgets than opponents.

[00:16:54] Mike McGinn: It's a mathematical equation. It's a mathematical equation, right? If you could give a number to your message, like the quality of your message, and multiply it times your delivery. And the problem is if you got, and this was - talking about campaigns, Bill and I worked on beating Roads and Transit. They spent $5 million, we spent $50,000 on robo-calls. But we had a killer message and they had a crappy message - and we won. Now that's an extreme example, but that was when it really drove home to me - that if you can deliver a really strong message that moves voters, and the opposite - that you can have millions of dollars and not move a single vote, because you don't have a message. So that's where I always start is - what is the race about.

I also just want to say, Crystal, I agreed with everything you said about their M.O. - their side's M.O. - it is, it's all the same people, the same consultants, the same corporate donors. And in fact, that's another structural disadvantage, right? We all show up every four years - Oh, who's our best progressive. They spend four years, working over whoever's in office - whether it's on the mayor or in the City Council. And the corporate lobbyists that work these campaigns, the lobbyists that work these campaigns, they didn't show up for the elections. They were all paid by Comcast and paid by the Downtown folks - they're all paid. Part of the service they deliver to their clients is to deliver a compliant mayor with a message into the race. They're working on this for four years. And your point is exactly right - they know that they can't win with the mayor candidate that they would love to have. A lot of the business folks would love somebody that was more conservative than the candidates they run, but they just take a look and they got to go, Okay, it's Seattle. We got to make it progressive enough to win, but willing to play ball with us and cut deals. And that means we don't get some old white anti-tax Republican - that's never going to show up for them in the race. They're going to show up with somebody who has some progressive cred, but who also knows what team they're on. And that's what we face.

[00:19:04] Bill Broadhead: And it's not just consultants that come in and help on the campaigns. It's a war machine, right? We got to call it what it is. It's a war machine that runs a polling operation, that runs a PR information campaign - every month, every year. We show up every four years or every two years and go, Okay, there's an election, kids. Let's go have a fight. They're in a permanent war footing.

[00:19:35] Mike McGinn: And it's public affairs. It's public affairs firms, it's Vice Presidents of public affairs. They've got so many people staffing this from one end to the other - and I'm sorry, Bill - but yeah, it's a war.

[00:19:46] Bill Broadhead: And they're doing polls and they're doing focus groups. They know exactly where the Seattle voter is all the time, and they know exactly what kind of candidates to recruit if they can, they know exactly how to approach each election. We come into it totally blind each time and try and figure it out. And until the left understands this asymmetry that we have in this fight, in this long battle - until we figure out this asymmetry and try and get some parity with who we're up against, we're going to keep having trouble. I guess the thing - I guess I wish everybody would ask themselves is - Why is 2009 in Seattle, Washington the last time we elected a progressive mayor? The City's got substantially more progressive since then, and we keep losing. I mean, if you have an all-star team playing against a crappy team, and you keep losing - you got to ask yourself why, and try and do something different. And this is my frustration, honestly, with the Seattle left, is we should not be losing these things. We should not - not in Seattle, Washington. We should not be losing to the more conservative candidate, and yet we do.

[00:21:05] Crystal Fincher: Well, I see a couple different things. And I've been thinking a lot about this - it's really interesting to me. I know some of us have had conversations about this offline - but there's elections, and there is where the electorate is - where the residents are, of the City. And we're seeing a couple of different dynamics, right? We're seeing a dramatic divide in terms of age. And right now older people turn out at much higher percentages than younger people - but there is an undeniable, dramatically more progressive bent to younger voters than there are older ones - and younger, like under 50, right? We're not talking about 25. We're talking about people who are not seniors right now. We're also seeing organizing, which is different than doing the types of things to win elections, but really focusing on building sustainable movements, right? And I think that there is that - that one, that's an effort that has not been traditionally part of the left in Seattle for a long time and that is growing. And that doesn't always look like the types of things that win every election.

[00:22:35] Mike McGinn: It is worth looking at the Nikkita race, because I think the point Crystal is making is a really strong one. That Nikkita is coming off an organizing base that lifted her up to a certain point and looking at where she ran, kind of as a message candidate, in a mayoral election to now really moving to trying to win a citywide seat and building a movement to do that. And, I think in a different year and with the different cast around her, I think Nikkita would be very close to pulling off a citywide win in Seattle. I think that she got pulled into a little bit of the overall negativity, right? She got associated with the other candidates, because it was very clear in watching Nikkita - that she was running a different race this time. And I'm very, very impressed by the quality of her campaigning and the rest. But she was running against a headwind of that kind of underlying dynamic in the race. And she wasn't really helped out by being - I think there's a thing that goes in Seattle, and I maybe I'll go back a little bit - it's like, Yeah, we can have Nick Licata on the City Council, and maybe he's an outlier, but one or two outliers is good. And having an outlier in Kshama is good, right? It's okay to have a Councilmember who holds down a certain end of the spectrum because they're only 1 of 9 - but I don't think that that was the mood this year. The mood was that the Council itself is flawed, and now there's a City Attorney, and now that there's a mayor and all of that - I think just kind of added up on Nikkita and didn't give her that opportunity to break through as kind of the principled left anchor of the City Council, or a principled left member of a City Council, and just made it harder for her. So that was my read on that race. I'd be interested to let - either one of you can jump in on your read on Nikkita. I'll turn it to Michael Charles first.

[00:24:30] Michael Charles: Sure, thanks Mike. I thought - so I agree with your assertion about the getting wrapped up into the City Attorney's race, and the whole discussion around those tweets became somehow every progressive person's tweets. And I thought that was really well done and that, to be perfectly honest, of really tying everybody to this sort of - here's what happens when the radical left goes too far, like this is just the ultimate manifestation of all of the craziness that has happened. And if we put these people in charge, we'll have riots - and what's the most visible thing Nikkita's been attached to - is those BLM marches. And it was very purposeful that they were using that protest imagery in a lot of the attack mail that they were sending us for pro-Sara/anti-Nikkita mailings.

So, I mean, I think - and we can talk about the racial issues that are obviously a part of that as well. But, I am going to come back to again though - I thought that there was a missed opportunity. Like sure, the money wasn't as much - but like Bill said, it can't just be about the money. You have to get your message out to people - and if you have enough money to get your good message, which I thought they had this time around - I thought they'd done a good job of getting organized and getting - figuring out about being what pragmatic, actual leadership looks like on the City level. And I thought they'd done a good job of doing that in person and in forums, but it was that last piece of really putting together - you had money for TV, could have done anything to mail. And it's sure - I mean, people can say they don't like it, but it's part of the equation. You have to do these things to get in front of people to, and again, anticipate what these attacks were going to be, and be ready to answer with your better message.

[00:26:31] Bill Broadhead: My mentor, Bob Gogerty, always said, "If you want me to hear you, talk about me", and it sounds super simplistic. And for a while, I used to kind of be like, Oh God, Bob. But you know, as I've gone on with my life, it's like, it just - it's amazing how many people just don't get that. And you know, they talk about themselves. They talk about a lot of stuff, but they don't talk about the voter, they don't listen to the voter, they don't hear the voter, they don't speak to the voter's concerns. And, I think what we saw in this election was people - you could see it in the polling - by far and away, 70% of the public said homelessness - that's what I'm concerned about. And they weren't all right wingers. It wasn't all just Fox News watchers saying that. A lot of them were people - were real progressives, people that we like, that are on our side - that they were concerned about homelessness for a variety of reasons. And we couldn't speak to them - we couldn't hear them, we couldn't identify with them.

And I see this in the lefty Twitter bubble - that anybody that's concerned about homelessness - Well, you're the other. Oh, well you must be a racist, or you must be a whatever. We start shrinking and shrinking down, and expelling anybody that says, "Well, God, I don't know, there are needles at the parks". Oh, well screw you. Man, this is not a recipe for our side winning going forward. We've got to think about this, folks. We've got to hold up, and listen and whatever - do some research, do some focus groups, start expanding our political base a little bit - because if we shrink down to anybody that's, and exclude anybody that's concerned about homelessness out of the tent, we're left with a very small tent.

[00:28:22] Crystal Fincher: I certainly see a tendency sometimes, to the very online people, and I'm certainly a very online person, getting used to talking to each other. I actually do think, especially with Nikkita, that they did, and to Michael's point, in forums and on the campaign trail, they did an excellent job of connecting their message to the people. What I think, and I think Michael Charles basically said it was a challenge - is that at the end, communicating that to the 100,000 people who just start tuning in once they get their ballots - is where that challenge is. And I think we see that in the publicly available polling, which was close, close, close. And then when it was time to turn on communication and that had started, that's when we started to see the gap widen.

I thank you all for listening to Hacks & Wonks on KVRU 105.7 FM. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler, with assistance from Shannon Cheng. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I. Now you can follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, wherever else you get your podcast - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar, be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at and in the episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in - we'll talk to you next time.