Back in August, after NPI’s polling foreshadowed that his campaign for a fourth term was in trouble, voters ousted incumbent City Attorney Pete Holmes as Seattle’s chief law enforcement officer, opting instead to send two little-known challengers on to the November general election runoff: three-time candidate Ann Davison and first-time candidate Nicole Thomas-Kennedy.
While it initially appeared that the race between Davison and Thomas-Kennedy could be close (based on the returns in the Top Two election and other indicators), our general election survey of the Seattle electorate shows that the dynamics in this contest have now significantly changed. Davison’s candidacy is getting lots of traction among voters, while Thomas-Kennedy’s isn’t.
Davison has the biggest advantage of any candidate in any of Seattle’s four citywide races right now, with a nineteen point lead over Thomas-Kennedy.
43% of 617 likely 2021 voters in Seattle said last week that they are voting for Davison for City Attorney, while just 24% said they were voting for Thomas-Kennedy. A significant percentage, 30%, are not sure, and 2% would not vote.
Davison came in second with 32.72%; incumbent City Attorney Pete Holmes placed third with 30.64%, and was, as mentioned, eliminated.
Now the race is looking like it could be an increasingly lopsided runoff.
Our new poll, which was conducted for the Northwest Progressive Institute by Change Research, has a modeled margin of error of 4.1% at the 95% confidence interval. All 617 respondents participated online. The poll was in the field from Tuesday, October 12th, 2021 through Friday, October 15th, 2021.
Here are the exact questions that we asked, and the responses that we received:
QUESTION: The candidates for City Attorney this year are listed below in the order that they will appear on the November general election ballot. Who are you voting for?
- Ann Davison: 39%
- Not sure: 39%
- Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: 22%
FOLLOW-UP QUESTION ASKED OF UNDECIDED VOTERS ONLY: If you had to choose, who would you vote for?
ANSWERS FROM UNDECIDED VOTERS:
- [Still] Not sure: 78%
- Ann Davison: 10%
- Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: 6%
- Would not vote: 6%
COMBINED ANSWERS, BOTH QUESTIONS:
- Ann Davison: 43%
- Not sure: 30%
- Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: 24%
- Would not vote: 2%
Notably, there are more not sure voters than Thomas-Kennedy supporters.
While Davison has a big lead, it’s several points under fifty percent, and only a plurality are committed to her candidacy at this point. So while it’s not over for Thomas-Kennedy, her path to victory looks much, much tougher than Davison’s.
Last year, after running unsuccessfully for Seattle City Council in 2019, Davison publicly renounced the Democratic Party, joined the party of Trump, and sought office again, this time for Lieutenant Governor as a Republican.
As in 2019, she was eliminated in the August Top Two election, with both general election spots in that contest going to Democratic hopefuls for the first time (State Senator Marko Liias and U.S. Representative Denny Heck).
Davison now says that she voted for Joe Biden in last year’s presidential election as opposed to Trump, the Republican nominee.
Thomas-Kennedy, meanwhile, has come under fire for a series of awful tweets she published prior to becoming a candidate, especially messages celebrating and condoning property destruction and taunting the Seattle Police Department.
The Seattle Times has seized on those tweets to bash Thomas-Kennedy on an extremely frequent basis while promoting Davison’s candidacy.
Davison has been frequently retweeting those editorials and piling on.
“ ‘Reject the evidence and refuse to apply the law’ is the approach of self-proclaimed nihilist, abolitionist, and lawyer of only four years Nicole Thomas-Kennedy in a nutshell,” Davison tweeted on October 11th.
Thomas-Kennedy, meanwhile, says Davison has repeatedly demonstrated through her rhetoric that she doesn’t understand the function or role of the office and has almost no relevant Seattle Municipal Court experience (whereas she does).
Speaking to PubliCola’s Erica C. Barnett, Thomas-Kennedy explained that the tweets that are being used as grist for attacking her candidacy were written at a time when she was feeling a lot of anger.
“I was outraged,” Thomas-Kennedy said. “People went out to protest racist policing and the Seattle Police Department responded with a level of retaliation that I was not expecting, including tear-gassing the neighborhood I live in eleven times. And, you know, I had to buy a gas mask for my nine-year-old daughter. And, yeah, I was really upset, and I feel like I had every right to be.”
Former Governors Gary Locke and Chris Gregoire have concluded that Thomas-Kennedy simply doesn’t have the temperament to be City Attorney, and have endorsed Davison, despite Davison’s almost total lack of court experience.
They have been joined by a number of retired judges and justices who are well respected in the legal community, including Laura Inveen, Bobbe Bridge, Bruce Hilyer, Ed McKenna, and Judith Montgomery Hightower.
Democratic Party leaders have fiercely criticized both Davison and her Democratic supporters. “You can’t call yourself a Democrat and support a Republican for this job,” King County Democratic Party Chair Shasti Conrad told The Seattle Times.
Thomas-Kennedy, hoping to appeal to Democratic voters, has noted that Davison is employing Republican firms to research and plot attacks against her.
“My Republican opponent paid the largest Republican campaign firm to dig up ‘dirt’ on me. She’s got corporate interests & the right wing media on her side,” Thomas-Kennedy wrote in an October 17th Twitter campaign update.
Davison also has the public backing of the King County Republican Party and right wing talk radio talk hosts like Bonneville’s Jason Rantz.
In a more conventional Seattle contest, Davison’s associations could easily make her unelectable. But the dynamics of this race are unusual.
Holmes is out of the running and Thomas-Kennedy is seeking office as an abolitionist rather than characterizing herself as a progressive Democrat.
That choice of brand, combined with Thomas-Kennedy’s much-criticized Twitter archive, seems to have opened the door for Davison with Democratic and progressive voters. Our team thinks it’s significant that voters of color prefer Davison by a more than two-to-one margin (44% for Davison, 21% for Thomas-Kennedy, 34% not sure) and voters in three of our four age brackets.
The youngest voters do prefer Thomas-Kennedy, but her advantage with them is not overwhelming: she has 36% support from voters ages eighteen to thirty-four, while Davison has support from 28% of that group.
Nearly a third of the youngest voters — 32% — aren’t sure.
With so many voters undecided, there remains an opening for Thomas-Kennedy to bounce back before the election ends. But her past tweets will continue to haunt her campaign. NPI’s polling data definitely suggests that the attacks being launched by The Seattle Times and Davison’s allies are working. Voters are committing to Davison while Thomas-Kennedy’s campaign stalls.
If these dynamics don’t change, by the end of the year, Seattle could have a City Attorney elected with the support of the Republican Party and right wing groups.
NPI is not aligned with either Davison or Thomas-Kennedy and does not have an endorsement in the Seattle city attorney race, or any involvement in an independent expenditure supporting or opposing either candidate.
Voting in the November 2021 general will end on November 2nd. Ballots must carry a 11/02/2021 postmark or be in a dropbox by 8 PM to count.