Off the Press

November 13, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Campaign tests candidates’ — and voters’ — mettle

Warren Kagarise
Press reporter

Throughout campaign season, as the insults zinged back and forth across screens and in mailboxes, I often hoped for Election Day to arrive as soon as possible.

But now, as the election recedes into memory I feel wistful, maybe even a little nostalgic.

Though the process often degraded the candidates and, in the process, voters, I found the contenders dedicated and focused on the task at hand.

Candidates knock on thousands of doors in the run-up to Election Day, a process referred to in candidate-speak as doorbelling. The exercise tests the candidates’ mettle and offers voters a grassroots introduction to the person behind the political sign.

Besides the usual pitfalls — unfriendly dogs, voters pretending not to be home — everybody on the doorbelling circuit, state Sen. Steve Litzow told me in a pre-election interview, encountered at least one naked voter at the door.

How do candidates navigate such a strange encounter?

“Maintain eye contact at all times,” he advised.

Surprise nudity aside, contenders compete — sometimes viciously — for a low-paying job with some decent benefits and plenty of brickbats.

Campaigns expose candidates to criticism from the other party, voters and, yes, journalists. But, as I learned long ago, most candidates offer compelling reasons for entering the arena.

I respect and admire elected officials and anybody open to plunging into rough and tumble public life.

I even enjoyed — yes, enjoyed — a campaign season defined by comebacks, upsets and milestones.

I met most candidates for interviews, often over Starbucks lattes, though Litzow’s campaign aide suggested lunch at the Roanoke Inn, Mercer Island power lunch spot.

Come election night, I headed to state Senate candidate Mark Mullet’s party at Zeeks Pizza. Only, rather than a party, I expected to encounter a lot of disappointed supporters and a close margin.

I declined a beer from the candidate (due to ethics, for starters, and company rules) — though, after weeks spent compiling and absorbing election coverage, I needed to take the edge off.

Like most local political observers, I spent the spring preparing for a 5th Legislative District state Senate showdown between incumbent Republican Cheryl Pflug and Democrat Mullet.

I, as well as Mullet and eventual Republican candidate Brad Toft and about 45,000 voters, know the outcome turned out much different.

Mullet is poised to make some minor history.

The last Democrat to represent the district in Olympia, Kathleen Drew, attempted a return to elected office.

Instead, in Republicans’ only statewide victory in Washington, Drew landed about 35,000 votes shy of Kim Wyman in the race to succeed retiring Secretary of State Sam Reed.

The resolution to Drew’s race did not come until long after Election Day.

In Washington, election night drama, like losers’ political signs along roadsides — and my nostalgia — lingers long into subsequent days.

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