Kshama Sawant won 58.5 percent of the vote in her new Seattle City Council District 3, on the strength of overwhelming support on Capitol Hill and in the Central Area.
Screw 2013. When it comes to Seattle City Council electoral politics, the game is already afoot for 2015 when all nine council seats will be up for reelection thanks to the passage of the districts charter amendment. And any potential challenger thinking Kshama Sawant's surprising victory was some sort of mass hysterical fluke that will make her easy pickings in two years, better study the map above.
Sawant may have only beaten 16-year incumbent Richard Conlin by a 50.7 percent to 49.0 percent margin citywide, but within the precincts that are entirely within the new District 3 boundaries, she racked up an impressive 58.5 percent to 40.5 percent victory. That's 58.5 percent of the vote for a political newcomer immigrant women of color openly running under the Socialist banner against a scandal-free pro-enviro four-term incumbent. Kinda stunning.
Also stunning is the stark divisions between District 3 neighborhoods and within the electorate in general: You were either with Sawant or against Sawant. Where Sawant won—mostly on Capitol Hill and in the Central Area—she tended to win big, with more than 65 percent of the vote. Where Sawant lost—mostly lakefront neighborhoods and other wealthy enclaves—voters went 65 percent or more for Conlin.
Just look how straight some of those lines are, with voters on the wealthier side of the street voting one way and voters on the other side voting the other. This is a map that represents divisions over inequality of income and opportunity, as well as attitudes over urbanism and density. And that's not a tension that's likely to resolve itself within two years.
I'm open to the possibility that Sawant might prove a disaster in office (though barring a scandal, is it really possible to be a disastrous council member?), but I suspect that Sawant will actually prove even more formidable the next time around. Of course she'll have the advantages of incumbency—higher name ID, more earned media, greater access to fundraising and endorsements. But I also suspect she'll have at least one significant legislative victory under her belt. Sawant ran on a $15 an hour minimum wage, and with Mayor-elect Ed Murray and nearly the entire council now backing the proposal to one degree or another, it seems likely that Sawant will be able to deliver.
That and the strong support she already enjoys in her district could make Sawant one of the least vulnerable incumbents in 2015. Challengers beware!