After Wednesday afternoon's ballot count, incumbent State Senator Mark Mullet's narrow lead over his progressive challenger, Overlake Medical Center nurse Ingrid Anderson, dropped from a little over 100 votes to 82 votes.
About 980 challenged ballots remain uncounted in the eastside district, according to Anderson's spokesperson, Jamie Housen. Housen feels confident the campaign's ballot-chasing operation will find and cure the number of ballots they need to win among new registrants and younger voters, who tend to vote for more progressive candidates.
The chase will continue until King County certifies the results on November 24, but even after that Housen expects a slim margin of victory on either side to trigger a recount. Until then, cautious optimism will reign in Anderson's camp as Mullet continues to embrace the Republicans who embraced him for running against Seattle.
Ballot-chasing campaigns are typically long shots, though sometimes trailing candidates can pull one out. Around this time last year, Bothell City Councilmember Mason Thompson was down 29 votes, but he ended up winning by five votes after a ballot chase. Redmond City Councilmember Varisha Khan was up 47 votes and found about 20 more during her chase. But in Bellingham the year before, Pinky Vargas was down 72 votes to Sen. Doug Ericksen and ended up losing by 45 votes after chasing ballots. So it's possible to get there, but 82 is a tall order.
The results of this expensive Dem-on-Dem battle won't just help determine whether modest climate bills and progressive taxes pass easily next session. A moderate Democratic incumbent coming so close to losing his seat to a progressive first-time challenger after unions spent a couple million supporting her also speaks to the changing politics of the district, the amount of muscle unions can flex against lawmakers who knife legislation they like, and the amount of discount ice cream available to people on Mullet's mailing list during election years.
(One of Mullet's mailers this year included a coupon for a free ice cream cone at the Ben and Jerry's he owns in Issaquah, which the Washington Public Disclosure Commission said they consider an in-kind donation to his own campaign and therefore an above-board move, but I still can't get over it.)
Jane Hopkins, executive vice president of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, said she believes Anderson will win the race. But, even if Anderson can't pull it off, the message to politicians from unions will be clear: "You can't just be a Democrat. You also have to live our values and vote our values," she said.
Even a narrow loss "will make people think twice before they make decisions against working people," Hopkins added.
The fact that Anderson is coming so close shows that "people are no longer as willing to let politicians be as mediocre as they once were, especially if they're white men," said Shasti Conrad, chair of the King County Democrats.
Even if Mullet wins, she argued, the party's moderates shouldn't see the victory as a mandate. "He has the power of the incumbency during a quarantine, he has name recognition beyond what a first-time candidate would have, and he might win by 80 votes? That tells me he’s not winning because everyone’s rallying around Mullet and what he stands for, it’s that they recognize the name," she said.
Though Democrats lost a few statehouse moderates on the reddening coast, Conrad said the caucus gained more progressive lawmakers, which adds up to a progressive "mandate to get work done."