Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant appears to enjoy broad support among the people who walk their dogs (and themselves) near the Summit Foods at the intersection of Summit and Thomas on Capitol Hill.
That fact may not surprise those of us who've read Capitol Hill Blog's fine precinct-level analysis of the District 3 votes on primary night, which showed Sawant with majority support in the precincts abutting that particular intersection. But for those of us who read opinions from the Seattle Times Editorial Board and who casually glance at mailers before throwing them in the recycling bin, you'd think the whole city was just aching to boot Bezos's public enemy #1 from her city council seat.
But that's not the story I heard from 12 out of 13 random people who stopped to talk to two Sawant volunteers, Elan and Dana, during the hour I observed them tabling on Tuesday evening.
One of the first people to walk by the little fold-out table, which was draped in red and festooned with Sawant pins and flyers, was an older man wearing glasses and a flat cap. When asked if he'd heard about Amazon's attempt to buy the elections, he pointed at Sawant's face on a flyer and said, "That's not my candidate. Trump doesn't treat people well, and neither does she."
When Elan told him that Trump donors had actually given money to Sawant's challenger, Egan Orion, the man followed up his critique, one often leveled by the Seattle Times Editorial Board, by saying, "I'm going to be 70 years old soon. I've made up my mind."
But just as that voter walked out of view, another older man, who was wearing immaculately clean sweat pants and house shoes, walked passed the table. When asked if he'd like to help stop Amazon from buying the election, he pointed to Sawant's face on the flyer and said, "Oh, I've already voted for her."
What did he like about her? "Everything," he said.
After a brief exchange about skyrocketing rents, this voter thanked the lord for the good luck of owning his own place, and then donated $5 to the campaign even though he said he'd already donated the day before.
Conversations like that one just kept happening.
A well-read woman in her 70s (she had mentioned reading a recent story on Slog) pledged to vote for Sawant. Housing affordability was her big issue. She said she needed to live close to hospitals to access medical care, but even with state assistance she still struggles to pay rent. In a scene familiar to many Capitol Hill renters, she said she winces every time management posts a piece of white paper to her front door. Still, she reached into her pocketbook and gave $1 to Sawant's campaign.
"That's the stuff that really pisses me off," Elan said. "People like her getting screwed. Seventy years old and she doesn't know if she's going to make rent next month."
The number of supportive passersby kept coming. A guy who said he lived in Green Lake coughed up $15 out of frustration with Amazon's unprecedentedly large contribution. "They're snakes," he said. A bartender who works in the area didn't sound like he was bullshitting when he offered to volunteer next week. A young couple said they had a Sawant poster in their window. A twenty-something Southern transplant with a beautiful King Charles Spaniel registered to vote and donated $20.
After tabling for two-and-a-half hours, Elan said the team ended up raising $116 from nine donations, registering three people to vote, and receiving volunteer commitments from four people." He seemed happy with those results.
Dana, who said she's been volunteering with the campaign since July, was also pleased with the table. The more residential neighborhood allowed for longer conversations with people who actually lived in the area, and, since the Amazon news, more people seem to be paying attention to the race.
That news, Dana said, appears to have clarified the choice for voters. Here's how she puts it: "Are you going to stand with a clear progressive voice on city council, or are you going to side with the Amazon-backed candidate, who may be a nice guy, but, in the end, it’s Amazon who is behind him—and if he gets on the council, they’re going to expect him to follow their lead."
The sample size I'm working with is obviously very small, but the race is where it's always been. To win, Sawant needs the apartment vote. (And the comfortably-housed sympathy vote. And the house-rich/cash-poor vote.) Though Sawant and Council Member Lisa Herbold have been the real champions for tenants rights on the council, the renter vote is difficult to get. People move out of apartments all the time, making voter lists unreliable. Lots of people are still moving into Seattle, and it takes time to find and register those people to vote.
Over the phone on Sunday, Bryan Koulouris, Sawant's campaign manager, said the renter vote was "crucial." To drum up turnout, they've been using the strategy that most campaigns have used: asking volunteers who live in apartments to knock doors in their own buildings.
Some volunteers have even just stood outside apartment complexes and buzzed entire floors, carrying on conversations through the intercom. That gets tricky when there's a timer on the talk box, though.
But Koulouris said Amazon's $1 million drop has "galvanized support in a huge way."
Nationally, popular progressive politicians such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal have expressed disgust over Amazon's attempt to buy the council. The corporate takeover appears to be motivating regular people as well.
Despite the rain last Saturday, Koulouris said over 80 people turned out to knock doors for Sawant, and that they're working with more volunteers than they ever have before. He put that number at around 500.
They've also seen a "huge" increase in contributions. The four days after Amazon's donation accounted for the campaign's four best fundraising days, Koulouris said.
Sawant now also boasts the largest number of individual contributors of any Seattle city council campaign in history, at least going back to 2003. According to the Seattle Ethics and Election Commission, Sawant currently has 5,763 individual donors, which beats out the number of donors to Council Member Teresa Mosqueda's 2017 campaign by over 600.
The fact remains, however, that more people voted for Sawant's opponents in the primary than voted for her. She's apparently done so badly in the polls (though I haven't seen them), PACs are trying to trick voters into thinking she's running against conservative candidates in other districts. There are fewer logos on her fliers this year than there were in 2015, and that's reflected in spending from progressive and labor PACs, who have so far all but abandoned both Sawant and District 4 candidate Shaun Scott. Civic Alliance for a Progressive Economy has spent a little over $1,000 on behalf of each candidate for text banking. That's it. Meanwhile, big business, Tim Burgess's PAC of angry rich people, and the firefighters have spent $313,000 on Orion's behalf, buying canvassers and ads and everything else.
Nevertheless, Koulouris sounds both clear-eyed about the work left to do, but also newly hopeful. "We've felt real momentum these last few days, and we hope to keep this up the next few weeks. The process is still playing out in a big way," he said.