So. Many. Mailers.
So. Many. Mailers. Rich Smith

The people running for local office (and the deep-pocketed independent expenditures that support some of them) have spent the last couple weeks making their closing arguments to voters. They've also ramped up spending to make sure voters hear those arguments as loudly as legally possible.

In a last-minute push to get out the vote and answer any lingering questions the electorate might have, over the weekend several campaigns donned personal protective equipment and hit the doors. Many of them discovered a theme: despite plenty of mailers in mailboxes and ads on television, a fair number of voters still had no idea who they planned to vote for.

King County's ballot return statistics reflect that indecisiveness, which is pretty typical even this late in the game. As of today at noon, only about 23.4% of Seattle's registered voters had turned in a ballot. As campaigns continue to urge more voters to get their ballots in, let's review the closing arguments in the major city races and learn what else candidates discovered at the doors.

The Mayoral Race

Monisha Harrell, a consultant working on Bruce Harrell's campaign (he's her uncle), said "if the closing message is let's get out the vote, then I think we're all failing because we're watching those return numbers and they're very low."

In response to the low numbers, Harrell said the campaign "shifted gears" in the last few days from their outdoor outreach (tabling at grocery stores and farmer's markets) to texting, where they expect to find people at home with their ballots.

She said the final messaging push highlights the former Seattle City Council President's "experience and his vision." The campaign spent the most of any other on cable and TV ads, telling people he'll "fix our city" and also telling his life story.

The campaign's mailer push—which was also massive—targeted three different neighborhoods (West Seattle, Southeast Seattle, and North Seattle) with three different messages. Harrell said "a lot of the messaging is the same," but the West Seattle mailer focused on the bridge, which Mayor Jenny Durkan decided to repair. The mailer in my Capitol Hill mailbox focused on his biography.

Harrell said the voters they reach "care about homelessness and public safety" and want "a holistic plan" to address those issues, particularly a "housing-first approach" with "strong wrap-around services," which she said "ties in nicely to Bruce's job center" idea, since these same voters also want "opportunity for people to be self-sustaining." Bruce Harrell's support for Charter Amendment 29, an unfunded mandate to sweep the homeless and build 2,000 "units"—most likely shelter beds—in a year, doesn't align with a "housing-first" agenda.

Lorena González, who many guess will finish in the top two, benefited from $450,000 in union PAC spending on mailers targeted at union households and on related TV ads running throughout July. Those mailers had dried cherries attached to them, which got people talking both for better and for worse. Those ads apparently aimed to reassure voters with the wholly anxiety-inducing phrase, "Seattle families won't have to worry about what she'll do as mayor."

Since then, the González campaign has spent thousands on a new mailer that leans heavily on The Stranger's endorsement, mentioning it once on the front and twice on the back. She also pulled a late-breaking endorsement from Bernie Sanders, whose Friends of Bernie Sanders organizers last week texted in support of González and Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda. Mosqueda is defending her citywide seat against a bunch of bozos.

González campaign manager Alex Koren said volunteers "knocked a ton of doors" on Saturday and led with the message that she's "a proven progressive" who will "tackle the city's issues" surrounding "police accountability, income inequality, and homelessness," and that she "not only has the experience to get it done but also the lived experience to really prioritize those issues," mentioning her early years on a cherry farm in eastern Washington. Koren added that one person on the doors planned to vote for González "because the bike blog endorsed her," so chalk one up to Tom.

Former Chief Seattle Club Colleen Echohawk's comms blitz included a 16-page newsprint pamphlet formatted like an alt-weekly, harkening back to the days when The Stranger, which endorsed Gonazález for mayor this year, put former Mayor Mike McGuinn's face on the cover for the paper's 2009 primary endorsements. (McGinn endorsed Echohawk this year.) The innards feature policies Echohawk laid out on her webpage, plus endorsements from a Pearl Jam guitarist and former moderate Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who owns a sailboat and a Cessna.

Her campaign has also appeared to ramp up texting at least in the Capitol Hill area—I got a text on Friday telling "undecided" people to meet Echohawk at Volunteer Park on Sunday; I got another one Friday directing me to her homeless plan.

Last week Echohawk put some money behind a 30-second negative TV spot showing a black-and-white slideshow of homeless people in agony. "Tonight thousands of people will sleep outside in our parks," the spot begins. (She hits that note about parks again in the big newsprint ad: "We have to solve this crisis. Not just for the people sleeping outside—but for our kids, and our parks, for all of us.") The ad ultimately blamed Harrell and González for the homelessness crisis.

Echohawk's consultant, John Wyble, told KUOW the piece was a "contrast" ad. Wyble didn't respond to a request for comment.

Conventional wisdom says negative ads depress turnout for rivals at the risk of turning off voters who dislike negative ads. If Seattle voters truly harbor as much anger at the council as Echohawk's consultants say they do, then it could be a smart play.

Andrew Grant Houston's campaign manager, Kelsey Hamlin, said they've maintained a "core digital focus," with ads running on social media and streaming services to reach younger voters.

Houston seemed to spend a lot more time promoting the campaign on Twitter than other candidates. Hamlin said Twitter accounts for "about one-third" of her own time campaigning. "We are well aware that life does not happen on Twitter, it's just one of those things where coming into the race...that was already a strong suit he had as an individual, and if you have that as a strong suit you should play to it," she said.

Aside from the digital campaigning, Houston sent out a second round of mailers a couple weeks ago, and their team increased phone- and text-banking as well as door-knocking over the weekend.

His campaign has texted me three times since Friday, mentioning his support for taking "concrete steps to solve climate change" and for defunding the police.

As with the other campaigns, the newer messaging revolves around when and how to vote, but they've also been "emphasizing that AGH is the only candidate who lives by his values on the campaign trail," mentioning his unionized core campaign staff and his paid youth team. That said, Hamlin said she's found a lot of people aren't home, or they're working during the day, or out enjoying the sun.

Hamlin guessed that busy lives, pandemic uncertainties, a general unawareness of primaries, and people working multiple jobs contributed to "the largest swath of undecided Seattle voters" she's seen in some time, she said in reference to a recent poll from Northwest Progressive Institute (NPI) showing over half the city backing candidate "Not Sure" for mayor.

A few weeks ago Jessyn Farrell really leaned into her support of Compassion Seattle in a giant mailer that announced her housing plan and that appeared to align her with the corporate-friendly candidates tacking rightward. A PAC primarily boosted by Nick Hanauer, a professional rich person who runs the liberal think tank Civic Ventures, where Farrell works at a vice president, dropped $46,000 on mailers for her.

Her own campaign spent the middle of the month paying for TV spots, and in the last few days she's been hitting the doors. On Sunday, Farrell held a canvassing launch in Ballard along with Seattle City Councilmember Dan Strauss and State Rep. David Hackney that focused on Farrell's plan to end gun violence in Seattle. Campaign consultant Will Casey said people at the doors expressed concern "about the direction the city is going in." People are "grouchy," he said, and they "want someone who can actually solve the problems they're facing."

City Council Position No. 9

Nikkita Oliver's campaign appeared to roll out the largest and most consistent field game in this race, if not this whole primary. Campaign coordinator Shaun Scott said "field is consistency plus intensity, and I think we've been consistently intense since we started knocking doors in early April." They've been out "for the most part every weekend since then," absent the occasional heat dome, and every Wednesday and Thursday since June.

He called Sunday's canvassing launch in Wallingford with MLK Labor and the Seattle chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America "really great," despite the smoke in the air. "We had some great conversations with voters both in north Seattle and south Seattle, and tried to bring the city together over a vision over racial justice that we definitely need," he added. In general, their ground game has Scott "feeling good" about election day.

An independent expenditure called Progressive Equity PAC, run by John Wyble, paid for about $20,000 in mailers and texts supporting Brianna Thomas, González's chief of staff. Libby Watson, Thomas's campaign manager, called the independent expenditure support "unexpected." When I asked Wyble about the PAC earlier this year, he said it was "for other candidates mostly in South King County." So far the PAC has only spent money on Thomas's campaign.

Watson said their campaign "had a bunch of folks" knocking doors and posting up at farmers markets this past weekend. They also did a little phone banking. "The message hasn't changed too much, as many who are close to Brianna know Brianna is Brianna is Brianna. We have leaned into the fact that she is a consensus-builder, and we need that because governing is a team sport."

Watson continued: "Given the crises we face, we don't have time for a learning curve, and Brianna—more than the other two candidates—doesn't need to learn. She knows how to get shit done, and she'll do that on day one, minute one." Watson said that message has been working "big time," especially when voters are "leaning Nikkita."

Last week the National Association of Realtors Fund spent $30,000 on online ads and calls on behalf of Fremont Brewing co-owner Sara Nelson's campaign. In the last few weeks the campaign itself has spent thousands on TV ads, robocalls, digital ads, and mailers touting her endorsements from Reverend Harriet Walden, the firefighters, the unions who tend to fight major climate change legislation, and the Seattle Times.

The City Attorney Candidates

After that NPI poll showed a three-way tie in the city attorney's race, three-term incumbent Pete Holmes came out like a lion on social media but a lamb in the press. He emphasized rival Ann Davison's status as a Republican and tied her to Seattle Police Officer's Guild President Mike Solan, an odious villain. He also characterized a tweet about property damage during a Black Lives Matter protest from former public defender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy as "outrageous and inappropriate." But in interviews with Seattle Times and Crosscut, he came off as vulnerable, openly talking about his fear that he may lose and bringing up the specter of retirement.

Thomas-Kennedy, the abolitionist in the race who wants to stop prosecuting most misdemeanors, noted the dramatic shift in Holmes's campaigning in her own conversations with others. She said she noticed "a shift from maybe more general support for me to a 'holy-crap-Ann-Davison-could-get-through-and-that’s-terrifying'" feeling, which she described as "fair." That didn't stop her and her field team from knocking doors in the north and south ends. She said knocking doors "terrified her" but her campaign manager, Tye Reed, convinced her to head out there as a way to build community.

Thomas-Kennedy said she maintained the same messaging at the doors, and said she met some people who "didn't know much about the race" who "seemed to think it was a better idea to give someone a sandwich rather than spend $15,000 on prosecuting them for stealing it."

Though I assume people don't know much about the city attorney's office, which handles misdemeanors, Thomas-Kennedy said voters "seem more aware than I anticipated," and that many were upset with Holmes for "suing the news," i.e. filing a counterclaim against the Seattle Times for suing the city over its handling of records requests related to Mayor Jenny Durkan's missing texts.

An independent expenditure called the Concerned Taxpayer Accountability Center spent nearly $20,000 for Republican candidate Ann Davison's misleading mailer full of inaccuracies. Otherwise, Davison's campaign spokesperson said she's been on the campaign trail "trying to connect with people in our great city." Which apparently looks like...taking selfies with people who lives in parks:

We'll see how much of this hard work pays off in a couple hours. The first ballot drop of the week will happen around 8:15 pm. Follow Slog for live updates.