Nov 9, 2023 - Politics

Seattle council incumbents still trail in latest election results

Seattle City Council incumbents Andrew Lewis and Tammy Morales.

Incumbent Seattle City Council members Andrew Lewis (left) and Tammy Morales were trailing challengers by large margins Wednesday, but many ballots remain uncounted. Photos: Courtesy of the candidates' campaigns

Seattle elections are known for big turnarounds in late vote counts, but it will take a major leftward swing for City Council incumbents Tammy Morales and Andrew Lewis to keep their seats.

What's happening: After two days of vote counting from Tuesday's election, Lewis trailed challenger Bob Kettle, a retired naval officer, by more than 11 percentage points Wednesday.

  • Morales, meanwhile, was almost 9 percentage points behind Tanya Woo, a community advocate for the Chinatown-International District who works for the hotel her family owns there.
  • Council member Dan Strauss was down by about two percentage points on election night to challenger Pete Hanning; however, by yesterday, the gap was less than 1 percentage point, making Strauss' re-election prospects seem more likely.

Why it matters: Four of the nine City Council seats are guaranteed to flip this election, and a fifth would become vacant if council member Teresa Mosqueda wins her race for County Council.

  • That means the election results — however they shake out — will cause big political shifts at City Hall.

Between the lines: If Morales and Lewis lose, the council's shift toward the political center will be more profound. Both incumbents are considered the more progressive candidates in their races.

  • As of Wednesday, the more moderate candidates in all seven Seattle council races were ahead by varying degrees.
  • Those candidates, including Woo and Kettle, garnered significant support from business-backed PACs and real estate interests.

What they're saying: "It appears to have been a fairly good night for center-lane candidates, and that's probably going to hold up in later ballot counts," political consultant Ben Anderstone, who has worked on Kettle's campaign, told Axios.

  • That said, Anderstone added that Morales can still win if later ballot counts skew heavily progressive. Similarly, Lewis still could win in a nailbiter, he said, citing past elections where left-leaning candidates have made significant gains after election night.
  • Ron Davis, the more progressive candidate running in District 4, also still has a chance of besting Maritza Rivera; as of Wednesday, Rivera led by more than 10 percentage points, Anderstone said.

Yes, but: Such a leftward swing may not materialize if voter turnout is significantly lower than it was in 2021, when a mayoral race drummed up voter interest — or in 2019, when Democratic voters were especially motivated to turn out during Donald Trump’s presidency, political consultant Michael Charles told Axios.

  • A last-minute, $1 million donation by Amazon in 2019 also helped galvanize left-leaning voters, driving up turnout and helping outgoing council member Kshama Sawant come back from about eight points behind to win, said Charles, who has worked on the campaigns of Lewis, Woo and Davis.
  • So far, it doesn't look like voters in Morales' and Lewis' districts are turning out at those kinds of levels, making a swing of 10-12 points in their favor appear less likely, Charles said.

What we're watching: Thousands of votes remain to be counted in the vote-by-mail election, meaning the candidates' fates may not become clear until early next week, Charles said.

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