Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"McGinn Reverses Course, Says He’ll Accept Tunnel Decision"

Erica C. Barnett (Publicola):
Echoing what his Sierra Club cohort city council candidate Mike O’Brien told us last week, mayoral candidate (and PubliCola-endorsed) Mike McGinn is backing away from his previous hard-line stance on the waterfront tunnel, saying in a statement that he would “uphold and execute” the tunnel agreement now that the mayor and city council have signed a memorandum of understanding with the state to move forward with the $4.2 billion project.

“It is not the Mayor’s job to withhold the cooperation of city government in executing this agreement,” McGinn said, adding, “I will, however, continue to ask tough questions.”

McGinn’s newfound recognition of political reality is smart. As numerous city council and mayoral candidates (and PubliCola) have pointed out, the mayor alone can’t stop the tunnel. McGinn’s statement acknowledges that (and, more important, it gives tunnel supporters— who were holding their nose and supporting Mallahan—a reason to support McGinn now).

In a statement, McGinn’s opponent Joe Mallahan derided McGinn for “flip-flopping” on the tunnel.

“My opponent has spent the last eight months campaigning on one issue – stopping the tunnel and our economy from moving forward,” Mallahan said.

“Now he’s changing his position because he’s seen the poll numbers and is fighting for his political life. My opponent has shown he is willing to say whatever voters want to hear.”

Howie P.S.: Early morning punditry from MorningFizz @Publicola: "He Wants to be Mayor":
What is Mike “No waterfront tunnel” McGinn thinking? Yesterday afternoon, he announced that he will “uphold” the tunnel deal.

I called him to ask what his political calculus was, but (despite our lovely McGinn endorsement) he never called back.

Here’s what I think he’s thinking: He wants to be mayor.

The polls don’t look good. (I’ve heard rumors that some polling has him down 12 points. A PubliCola poll from last week had him down six—36 to 30 with 33 percent undecided). I guess he realized his anti-tunnel zealotry was costing him more votes (undecideds and green liberals who would otherwise vote for him) than it was picking up for him. He’d hit a ceiling. His numbers weren’t moving. (I wrote about McGinn’s need to move beyond his anti-tunnel base in the analysis of our poll.)

So, he rolled the dice, thinking he won’t lose his anti-tunnel base (that’s where the “I will, however, continue to ask tough questions” comes in), while he could gain enough undecideds and soft Mallahan supporters to win.

Not a bad play. Most of Mallahan’s support is soft. From Gov. Gregoire’s “Mallahan” endorsement to the establishment money that’s been going Mallahan’s way—Mallahan’s lead is really more anti-McGinn than pro-Mallahan. McGinn’s announcement is an attempt to woo those people to his camp. “It’s safe to vote for me.”

The added message: “I’ve listened to you. I’m not the intransigent dick you think I am.”

(I imagine he cut a deal on this too, with a couple of big name endorsements to come. State Sen. Ed Murray?)

Will it work? Maybe.

Here’s why it could fail, though. McGinn’s got to start all over with some crafty messaging. It’d be one thing if he had tons of money (he doesn’t), and he didn’t have a rich opponent who’s bought up TV time of his own. (Mallahan, who has raised over $500,000, is $95,000 in the red—meaning, there are some big Mallahan TV buys out there.) Mallahan will be able to scramble McGinn’s new concilatory message with “flip flopper” attack ads.

Ultimately, I think a ton of people want to vote for McGinn, but they can’t get past his anti-tunnel thing. McGinn had to make this move.
Only time—and money—will tell if it pays off.

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