Saturday, November 17, 2007

How to win a local election

    Congratulations to Mike Cero, who claimed victory in his City Council election, a notable upset considering the huge lead in endorsements and high-power Democratic party backing enjoyed by his opponent, Maureen Judge, who tonight posted her concession statement on her web site. 

    For the record, let me say that I sincerely do think Maureen is highly-qualified and would have been an excellent addition to the City Council.  I hope she doesn't give up politics, but continues to use her formidable experience and energy volunteering to help the Island.

    Most discussions about the campaign give the following reasons for Mike's victory: 

  1. Mike befriended the grassroots, not the elites. He personally visited virtually every home on the Island, appeared in every public debate (Maureen skipped the one in August), sponsored a "meet the candidate" event at the Community Center, and waved his own signs day and night on Island Crest on the days before the election. Direct personal relationships always trump party affiliation and in this case, most of us felt like we knew Mike.
  2. Maureen, who moved to the Island only a few months before declaring her candidacy, was unable to demonstrate a sincere interest in the mundane details of local "pothole issues".  It was obvious to many of us that she intended this position to be a stepping stone to a bigger political career.  Some might think that would be a long-term advantage for Mercer Islanders, but plenty of people thought the opposite:  once in office would she sell us out in order to advance her own career?  And without local ties, who could blame her?
  3. Big-name endorsements are overrated. Why does it matter what out-of-town organizations think? Almost none of their members are Mercer Islanders anyway. Mike actively recruited endorsements from hundreds of "normal people", whereas Maureen seemed to care only about endorsements she could list as "firstname lastname (bigshot title)".
  4. Newspaper endorsements are superficial. The Seattle times endorsement of "Kathleen" (they botched her name!) begged obvious questions about how thoroughly they look at the candidates. The MI Reporter endorsement at least got the name correct, but left out details about why their editorial board made its decision.  Maybe they just flip a coin?  Who knows?

I have another theory about how to win a local election, particularly in close races like this one: go electronic.  Look at this snapshot of the number of people who read my posts about Maureen and Mike during just the three weeks before election day:


(that midpoint line is 50 people per day)

A total of 997 unique visitors came to my site during this period, including a lot of people who found me via a Google search for "Maureen Judge" (my posts were consistently among the top results):

And these weren't just accidental visitors -- the average time spent looking at these posts was over 3 minutes.  What were they thinking about while they were here?

A few more observations:

  • I have a busy day job and this pathetic blog is an amateur hobby, nothing more. I do nothing to promote it. You're reading this because you found it by word of mouth from somebody else. Imagine if you created a local blog and actually tried to get readers, through advertising, through "professional" graphic design, etc.
  • I wasn't involved in any campaign.  I never attended a "strategy meeting", never coordinated my posts with other campaign activities.  Neither Mike nor Maureen had any control or advanced information on what I posted from one day to another.  Imagine what would have happened if an election campaign had specifically targeted the blogosphere!
  • Maureen was the only candidate who never contacted me (Cero, Bassett, Litzow--they all personally emailed me when I posted about them).  No doubt her campaign thought it was better to simply ignore me -- I'm just too little, particularly when she has such high-powered figures in her camp.  But I think the lesson is that in a local election you can't afford to ignore anybody -- particularly when victory is decided by a mere 200 votes. 

Finally, let me thank all of you readers for coming here, and especially those who provided great insight with your comments.  If anyone reading this is interested in running another campaign, please contact me and I'd love to give you additional suggestions based on what I learned while analyzing my web traffic.


Anonymous said...

Pretty good analysis (though a little self serving), but among other errors, one amazingly erroneous statement that had been corrected a number of times to you via blog comments AND one very noticeable difference in the campaigns:

1. You state that Mike "befriended the grassroots, not the elites." Most of the biggest contributors, and many of the other contributors are the elite of the republican party. How that escaped your analysis is, well, understandable given your clear preference for Mike (and biased postings) from day 1.

2. Mike was the only city council member to run a negative campaign. It's true that negative campaigning is all too familiar here in our regional, state and national elections. Mike was the one and only to begin the general election attacking his opponent to deflect the campaign to one that he defined as negative issues. The attacks continued, the negativity was broadened beyond Mike to many of his supporters who sent emails around (almost daily) attacking Maureen.

Maureen finally responded (after being attacked more than a dozen times) at the very end. Even the best, most positive people can only take so much for so long.

The sad part is what Mike's victory might cause others to do in future local races.

How sad. How very very sad. How about a post on that.

Richard Sprague said...

Thanks for the comment, and sorry about the self-serving part -- my intent was just to give some data about the real level of impact of a little blog like mine, and to suggest what might happen if somebody seriously tried to influence an election this way.

Who says I shouldn't be biased? Of course I am and yes, I voted for Mike. But I wasn't biased at the beginning. I looked up the PDC stuff (including the Republican issue you mention and which I concluded was overblown) and studied the issues all by myself, becoming more pro-Mike the more I learned. I changed my mind about Litzow after he contacted me, but Maureen (unlike every other candidate) made zero attempts to reach me: didn't email me, didn't visit my house. Unlike those "daily attack emails" (which by the way I never received --I didn't know about them), my blog is completely public and open, and she would have been more than welcome.

I can only conclude she didn't care about my vote--so she didn't get it, and I bet a lot of other voters felt just as snubbed.  That's the REAL lesson for a local campaign.

Anonymous said...

Ah, some long awaited honesty.

1. You admit to being a Cero supporter...finally. That's why the data you find "overblown" is the data that shows he's a total republican -- from donor base through positions.

2. You also admit it's not about who has the best positions...who is the best qualified. It's who responded to YOU. It's all about YOU.

Too bad you didn't state these things up front..instead, pretending to be an objective presenter of data. Rather, when these things were pointed out, you pretended you remained objective.

I guess now that the results are final, you can come clean.

In the future, it would be a lot better for you to list your allegiances up front and not pretend to be objective.

PS...given your obvious importance to the election, it seems that Cero owes you this close victory. Hope he shows his thanks to your satisfaction. You are the kingmaker of Mercer Island politics.

Anonymous said...


I enjoy your blog. I think both you and the previous poster make some very valid points. I agree with you the Maureen ran a poor campaign. I still voted for her. My wife sent an email to her about transportation issues and got no response, not even something from a staffer. I felt like she took the voters for granted particulaly after her primary victory, an as you observed, it did not appear that she was committed to MI issues. (For the record, I am only 14 mos. on MI.)

For me, Mike was just too slick, and "swarmy." (Is that a word?) I objected to his position on our "right" to SOV lanes and his emphasis on that in the campaign. Don't get me wrong, I love the SOV in the HOV (on the once or twice a week when I drive downtown).I would have liked to have heard about what Mike was going to do about getting people out of their cars, particularly on MI, where it is difficult to get from the south end to the downtown core without driving. To his credit he was out in the community and his issues and appeal were "grass roots." He was at every city council meeting, and definitely got his name and face out.
I agree with the previous poster that his contributors and supporters were the Republican elite of MI, for which there is no shortage. He also ran a negative campaign. Hopefully, the next time the Democrats can put up a candidate with real bipartisan appeal who can run a "smarter" campaign.

Richard Sprague said...

Thanks everyone for your comments.

Incidentally, here's why I post under my real name: