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Murray-McGinn

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

Yeah, there were plenty of people saying incumbent Seattle Mike McGinn might not even make the runoff in today’s primary election. You can understand why, given the history: Four years ago, incumbent Mayor Greg Nickels, who was a much more experienced and seemingly stronger candidate, ran in third place behind McGinn (who came in a narrow first) and Joe Mallahan (second).

McGinn just hasn’t seemed like a strong, dominant leader. the narrative since before he took office was that this guy was running the city. When Governor Chris Gregoire had to meet with a Seattle leader on transportation issues, she met with people from the Council. Nickels, at least, had been a forceful presence.

But maybe that matter of personality shouldn’t be read, as a matter of popularity with the voters, quite so simplistically. McGinn has been underestimated over and over.

Okay. Some context, then.

Political calculus is that an incumbent forced into a runoff – in other words, an incumbent (whether that’s Mayor of Seattle or a council member at Baker City) who fails to get 50% of the vote in the primary, is in trouble for the general election. Incumbents usually pull their full weight first time around; they don’t usually pick up many votes from voters who already have opted to change the occupant of the office. That’s true even if you come in first, but under 50%, in the primary. And McGinn came in second, with only 27% of the vote, to Ed Murray’s 30%.

The odds have to favor Murray for the November faceoff.

But don’t be too quick to write this off. A great deal will depend on what kind of face Murray presents to the Seattle electorate. As he puts that effort together, he may want to reflect on the particular personal qualities that voters have found appealing so far in McGinn. There are reasons, after all, why he’s the mayor and, say, Greg Nickels is not. Even under these conditions, he should be underestimated at risk.

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