Smith: COVID-19 shutdown skews primary election results
Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle appeared to be tipped for easy re-election. While he did win a contested three-way primary, he did not win decisively. As a result, worrying signs have emerged for his campaign heading into the general election as the impact of the COVID-19 shutdown on the primary is fully considered. Instead of passing a three-term incumbent on to easy reelection, it looks increasingly likely that Beaverton is about to get its first woman mayor in two-term City Councilor Lacey Beaty this November.
Consider the following:
Times of crisis tend to favor incumbents (politically speaking) as people turn to government leaders for reassurance and a sense of stability. And like most incumbents, Denny Doyle ran on the status quo, touting the city's economic growth and development during his tenure to make his case for a fourth term.
Lacey Beaty ran on a more progressive platform. Her campaign focused primarily on affordable housing, youth homelessness, and the challenges facing small businesses. She did not run television ads, was heavily outspent, and relied on volunteers and local grassroots fundraising to execute her campaign.
Secondly, and more importantly, the state's COVID-19 shutdown limited public access to election information and suppressed voter turnout. It had an uneven effect across the local population, making it harder for some to vote than others.
Essential workers, for example, tend to be younger and less affluent. They are also less likely to own a car, making them more reliant on public transit and ride-sharing to meet basic needs. These individuals were more likely to vote for Lacey Beaty.
The older and more affluent, by contrast, are much more likely to own a car (as well as their own home). They have fewer restrictions placed on their time and are more likely, as a share of the general population, to participate in elections at all levels. It was easier for them to vote, plain and simple.
We have no choice but to conclude, therefore, that the COVID-19 shutdown effectively handed Denny Doyle's reelection campaign two unseen advantages. First, it reflected a time of crisis in which voters increasingly look toward incumbents for reassurance. Second, the shutdown disproportionately suppressed turnout among groups more likely to vote for his opponent.
Denny Doyle's campaign garnered just 44% (11,100 votes), compared to 35% (8,801 votes) for Lacey Beaty. Even with these two significant advantages, the incumbent failed to win an outright majority. Another shutdown is unlikely to occur. Hence, the results are unlikely to be skewed again in this way.
The real takeaway from the primary election is that the stronger and more resilient campaign heading into the general election may in fact belong to the challenger. Despite official results, the real winner in Beaverton's race for mayor appears to have come in second, at least for the time being.
Shahriyar Smith lives in Beaverton.
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