Yes, Virginia, there is momentum in politics.
Ask Greg Nickels, who is edging to the top of the Seattle mayoral race as endorsements from labor and Democratic Party organizations roll in. A new KING TV poll shows King County Council member Nickels now with 32 percent to incumbent Paul Schell's 25 percent. Just two weeks ago, Nickels only led by 27 percent to Schell's 25 percent.
While Nickels' lead is barely above the 500-voter poll's 4.5 percent margin of error, he has roundly trounced Schell in obtaining the support of Democratic district organizations and even grabbed the coveted King County Labor Council nod. Schell lost labor's endorsement despite having given the city employee unions everything they've asked for, having taken a bold stand in favor of striking newspaper workers, and being the type of pro-development chief executive the building and trades unions have always dreamed about.
These lopsided Nickels wins expose two potentially fatal weaknesses of the Schell campaign: First, insiders have all probably underestimated the enduring enmity toward the incumbent. And, secondly, the mayor's campaign doesn't have a clue about the ground game machinations required to bring home endorsements. The Friends of Paul, although many, are folks who write $600 donation checks, not the doorbelling, sign-making campaign regulars Nickels has cultivated throughout his legislative career.
It isn't just that Schell lacks the fawning daily newspaper support he had in 1997—back then, many people genuinely liked his chances of becoming Seattle's next great mayor. It's hard to make that case four years later.
But even in 1997 there were concerns about putting the patrician developer into office—enough so that West Seattle guy Nickels almost rode a key endorsement from outgoing mayor Norm Rice and a clever television campaign to a spot in the finals.
This year, there will be no flashback for Charlie Chong, the former City Council member who edged Nickels to advance to the 1997 final. The KING TV poll shows him mired in the midteens along with City Attorney Mark Sidran, who has staked his political career on a last-minute kamikaze attack on Sound Transit without bothering to come up with his own alternatives.
Momentum goes both ways, you know.