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Seattle City Attorney faces prospect of being odd candidate out in tight three-way race

Pete Holmes (left), Nicole Thomas-Kennedy (center), and Ann Davison (right).

With almost a fifth of votes tallied, the race for Seattle City Attorney is shaping up to be one of the most compelling and consequential showdowns so far during this year’s August primary.

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As of Wednesday night, Ann Davison is out to an early — albeit narrow — lead, having garnered 35% of early votes. Trailing close behind are Nicole Thomas-Kennedy and 12-year incumbent Pete Holmes in a virtual tie at 32%.

Early on in the election cycle, it appeared as though Holmes was primed to coast to reelection after his only challenger, Steve Fortney, abruptly dropped out of the race. But in the months since Davison and Thomas-Kennedy registered to run, it’s become more and more clear that Holmes’ path to reelection is uncertain at best.

With Davison — who ran as a Republican for Lieutenant Governor in 2020 — local conservatives could get their first significant inroad into city hall in decades. Throughout her campaign, she’s emphasized a tough-on-crime approach, criticized Holmes for what she labels “mainstream Seattle values,” and at one point, likened conditions in Seattle homeless encampments to “civil war refugee camps” based on conversations she had with people from the Congo and Albania.

Thomas-Kennedy operates at the other side of the political spectrum, running as an “abolitionist” in favor of ending the prosecution of low-level misdemeanors, defunding the police department, and putting more resources into restorative justice policies. Should she be elected, it could represent a significant shift to the left of Holmes politically, scoring a clear victory for the city’s progressives in a period where Seattle will also soon get a new mayor (and eventually a permanent police chief).

Holmes has been largely silent since Tuesday, but in the lead-up to this week, he’s cast himself as the middle-ground alternative to Davison and Thomas-Kennedy, going after the former for her ties to prominent conservative fundraisers, and the latter for an August 2020 tweet in support of protesters, where she stated that “property destruction is a moral imperative.”

Still votes left to count

There are still a good deal of ballots left to count, leaving plenty to be decided as Holmes faces the prospect of ending up as the odd candidate out for November’s general election.

On Wednesday, Davison saw her lead widened after a lighter day of returns from King County Elections (an additional 1% of ballots were tallied, compared with 18% on Tuesday). She now holds a 2,200-vote advantage over Holmes, with Thomas-Kennedy sitting 551 votes behind him.

Seattle voters split down stark political lines in early primary results

But both Holmes and Thomas-Kennedy could also be primed for a late surge, with a larger portion of votes expected to be counted by late Thursday afternoon. Historically, Seattle’s more conservative voters have tended to vote early — thus have their ballots counted earlier — often leading to dramatic shifts in the days following the initial release of results.

We saw that in 2019’s council race, when initial returns showed Egan Orion and Jim Pugel — both viewed as the more conservative of the two candidates in their respective races — leading Kshama Sawant and Andrew Lewis.

Sawant later closed Orion’s eight point lead, eventually winning the District 3 council seat 54% to 47%, while Lewis eventually overtook Pugel to win by a nearly identical margin.

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