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Jan Drago

Jan Drago

You sorta get the feeling that the Greg Nickels forces have been preparing for this. In Crosscut, the headline was, “The Mayor ‘welcomes’ Jan Drago to the campaign,” and you get the sense of a puzzle piece calculatedly falling into place. Even though this means he now actually has not a possible serious opponent, but a real one.

The Seattle mayor should, by rights, be in trouble. His polling borders on horrendous; the Seattle Times reported a couple of weeks ago that Drago is positioned to win by 21 points. Drago is no unknown; she’s been on the council since she was first elected in 1993, longer than anyone else now on it.

And there are some structural reasons for thinking Drago might pull it off, including a primary contest which may favor her kind supporters.

But there’s also no sense here that Nickles, twice elected (and the first time after two close and tough contests) is on the run. From Crosscut: “It’s clear that Mayor Greg Nickels’ political Swat team is trying to cut Drago down early in the campaign, before she can get much momentum. There’s a press release a day touting Nickels’ achievements in his most vulnerable areas: getting stimulus funds, getting favors from Olympia, the pesky snowstorm. The media is peppered with pointed questions to ask Drago: about her absenteeism (code for getting too old), her Nickels-like voting record. Nickels is playing a tough Hillary to Drago’s Obama-like message of consensus. It’s meant to rattle her (she is eminently rattleable) and to freeze Nickels’ supporters from any thought of defection.”

A challenger to a veteran incumbent ordinarily has to play one of two cards: Either make the case that a very different policy direction is needed (not useful here, because Nickels and Drago aren’t far apart) or hammer the incumbent as too bad to keep in place (which would upend the consensus style Drago likes and which has helped her in the past). She has strategic options available, but they’re apt to be unpalatable, and Nickles’ people seem to have assessed as much.

Her problem, in other words, seems to be strategic more than anything else. It may be solvable. Should be fascinating to see how she tries to do it.

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