Over on Publicola there’s been some speculation about State Sen. Ed Murray launching a write-in campaign for Seattle Mayor, an idea which at first glance sounds a little stupid. Write-in campaigns are exceedingly difficult things to run, and in a citywide, top-of-the-ticket race, nigh impossible. And Murray is nothing if not a savvy politician who wouldn’t dare risk his reputation on a farce or a folly.
But on second thought…
I’ve got no polling data to back this up, but there’s a strong argument to be made that, considering their lack of name ID and zero experience in public office, a goodly sum of the votes for both Mike McGinn and Joe Malahan were really votes against Mayor Greg Nickels. I’m less impressed with Mallahan buying his way into public consciousness than I am with McGinn’s grassroots success, but I’m still not all that impressed with either campaign; Mallahan has proven himself uninformed on many city issues, while McGinn has yet to make a strong case that he is qualified in both experience and temperament to serve as chief executive. The well-known and well-respected Murray, on the other hand, would have instant credibility.
But the real wildcard that makes the goofy notion of a mayoral write-in campaign just a little less goofy is our new, all vote-by-mail format. Voting at our leisure at the kitchen or dining room table, it really doesn’t take that much more effort to write in “MURRAY” than it does to completely fill in that little circle. And, as Josh points out, with R-71 likely to be on the ballot, Seattle’s strong and politically activated gay community will have extra incentive to send a message by electing our city’s first openly gay mayor. And, the sheer novelty and drama of such a challenge would draw oodles of valuable earned media, and if properly played, national coverage as well.
Could a Murray write-in campaign be perceived to be credible enough to, say, earn an endorsement from the self-proclaimed arbiters of credibility at the Seattle Times? My spider-sense says yes.
So… should Murray run? Only if he’s willing and able to raise the money and commit the time and energy to make it a real campaign, and only if he’s got some reliable polling data telling him that he’s got better than a snowball’s chance in Hell. What he shouldn’t do is kinda-sorta run, just to make a statement, or to drive turnout for R-71. I know from running joke campaigns, and somebody with Murray’s ambition and potential shouldn’t make the mistake of lowering himself to my level.
That said, if Murray does declare as a write-in candidate, and does make a serious effort to win the race, there’s no shame in losing, and probably no long term political cost either, as long as he’s perceived to take the challenge seriously. After all, as any self-respecting pundit will tell you, a mayoral write-in campaign is nigh impossible.