I said that I would be watching the 46th District State Representative race in Seattle, WA very closely on election night. The final results are still not tallied (King County is super slow and it’s not a close race so the counting happens even slower) but, with nearly 65% of the vote so far (and over 75% counted), it’s pretty clear that my guy won. It’s also clear that he blew the other guy out of the water. Why did Gerry Pollet beat Sylvester Cann? Let’s break down this little race by addressing some of the factors.
Some say yardsigns don’t matter. They are partially correct. Yardsigns strewn about or randomly placed illegally next to ten other yard signs on a freeway on-ramp as cars zip by at 50 mph are useless litter. Yard signs given to supporters who beg for them is just a little bit less useless. Yard signs sitting, by permission of the homeowner after deciding to support the candidate because he/she had a great conversation with the candidate, on a busy but residential street do matter. Neighbors pass by those signs every single day and, when they see that name at the ballot box, they remember who that guy down the street supports and it affects their vote – or they strike up a conversation with their neighbor who just had a great conversation with the candidate. Gerry Pollet believed in that. He went and spent 20 minutes at a house he was canvassing with the goal of getting them to put up a yard sign. For him, that was a guarantee that he had gotten a vote and that, perhaps, that yard sign would influence a couple more. It was one of the major campaign strategies he had that Sylvester Cann did not (or did not do effectively, he did at one point attempt to match it). The results speak for themselves. Advantage Pollet
While I argue that yard signs, how we did them, worked. Sign-waving generally doesn’t – Cann did it a lot (and we saw that earned him all of 35% of the vote). But, when you personalize it, you can have a little more success. In the background, you can see the crappy strategy of littering all over the roadway with signs.
Both candidates got a lot of endorsements. Sylvester Cann received the largest endorsements, from the Seattle Times. But the Seattle Times Editorial Board is not in tune with its readership and is becoming less influential every day. Cann also fooled a lot of labor groups and others to do dual endorsements – a mistake they now deeply regret. Cann also received several endorsements from influential people in Seattle, like former King County Executive Ron Sims. Pollet did receive several sole endorsements from key groups that have small but significant groups that vote straight down the organization’s endorsements including the Sierra Club and NARAL. Cann also had the vocal support though of the widow of a state senator who he had worked for who had beaten Gerry Pollet in a race in 2010. Advantage Cann
The NARAL endorsement created an issue when Cann listed it as one of his “endorsements.” He had a 100% Pro-Choice rating but that is different than the sole endorsement (or even a dual endorsement, which he didn’t). Gerry Pollet was not afraid to call him out on it.
This is an empirical one. Charter-school interest groups spent almost $100,000 of outside spending on mailers and robo-calls for Cann. One teachers union tried to push back with about $30,000 for Pollet. Advantage Cann
Another empirical question. Cann spent nearly $130,000 for his campaign (and is currently a little over $5,000 in debt). Gerry Pollet $120,000. Advantage Cann
Campaign Advertising, Spending
Both candidates put out a single television ad – although, in total, Gerry Pollet spent much more on television than Cann. The Cann ad was more sophisticated but I think less strategic. Pollet’s ad was on a budget but smartly done and portrayed him as the more serious, incumbent candidate. Advantage Wash
Political Consultants/Campaign Messaging
Cann had the higher priced fancier political consultant but I think our consultant was more effective myself (and the results would seem to indicate that). Both campaigns had good messaging strategies though. Cann wanted to try to be a little less liberal than Pollet and scoop up the middle votes through his iffy position on charter schools and other very vague positions. He also put Obama all over his campaign literature to try to pretend that Obama had endorsed him. Pollet ran a very disciplined, centrist messaging strategy that kept Cann from carving out some territory to operate in. Advantage Wash
The difference in campaign staff was huge, especially at the critical campaign manager level. Cann’s ground staff were young high school interns that weren’t very helpful and ceased to exist once school started while Pollet kept determined, motivated folks on his staff to help him knock on doors from early on in primary season through to the general election. Advantage Pollet
Pollet received the official endorsement of his party. This doesn’t show up on the ballot and several of these endorsements lost to other Democrats but it does put a mini army of volunteers on your side doorbelling and distributing sample ballots. Advantage Pollet
Pollet was the incumbent*. I put an asterisk because he is an appointed incumbent and he had lost his previous race. So, while he had some name recognition from his other race it was from getting beat rather badly by Senator Scott White, who then died suddenly, which allowed Pollet to be appointed halfway through the term, and then he faced a guy who was supported by the widow of Senator Scott White. So there was limitations to this incumbency advantage. Nevertheless, Advantage Pollet
So, that is 4-3 in Pollet’s favor. But, not all of these can be weighted equally. The money is important. Almost double was spent on behalf of Cann than was spent on behalf of Gerry Pollet. And Cann had endorsements from key people. This race should have been a lot closer. It would have been closer had it not been for the extremely effective grassroots campaign run by Pollet. It not only gave the advantage in that area to him but, I would argue, it actually tipped the scales to make that more of an important factor in the campaign because he beat Cann so badly in it. Our work knocking on doors every single day (and the right doors), getting to every single precinct in the district, tens of thousands of houses, many once during the primary and once during the general, is what made this go from a close race to a blowout that will cement Mr. Pollet’s spot in the state legislature for years to come. He has everyone calling him up trying to work with him now because they know he has a huge mandate to do great things for our district.