Posted by: sweeneyblog | November 13, 2013

Election Analysis: The Curious Case of Clayton Petree

On election night, one of the biggest surprises for me was how poorly Clayton Petree did. I thought that with the combination of his enviro-friendly imagery, name recognition from a previous run and successful fundraising, he would do much better. However, when the votes were tallied, Pinky Vargas blew him out of the water, 63.1% to 36.8%. So what happened?

This is a good cup of coffee

Clayton Petree

In terms of campaign tactics, there was a clear difference. Petree spent money on print ads in liberal-leaning papers (Cascadia Weekly and The Bette Pages) and then spent his remaining funds on online advertising. Vargas, who was relatively cash poor at the end of the campaign, did a combined print mailer with Roxanne Murphy. In addition, both Vargas and Petree were listed on their respective party’s slate card.

Despite losing to Vargas, Petree did succeed in one respect. He did better than the Republicans running for County Council. The conservative County Council candidates pulled an average of 29% in Bellingham, a solid 1,156 votes fewer than Petree. Looking at the locations Petree outperformed the council candidates, there seems to be very little rhyme or reason to it. A few choice precincts in Edgemoor, a few in North Bellingham, no real coherent pattern seems to emerge.

So what happened? This was a base election, where the die-hard partisans on both sides of the fence voted in droves. In Bellingham, most voters were Democrats, and while Petree was able to peel off a handful of Democratic votes, it was nowhere near enough to make this race competitive.

What does this mean for the future? If Petree was the conservative’s best shot at taking a Bellingham City Council seat, will they simply ignore those races in the future? Already, Michael Lilliquist and Gene Knutson got a free pass this year. What about in 2015 when Jack Weiss and Cathy Lehman will be up for reelection?(Terry Bornemann will be up too, but he has indicated he will be retiring.)

I will leave you with one last thought. Of all the conservatives running for County Council, not a single one contacted their opponent to congratulate them. It is a simple courtesy, and a tradition in politics reaching back decades. Not a single one. Clayton Petree sent his congrats election night, publicly, on facebook.



  1. Until yesterday (Nov. 12), Kathy Kershner was the only County Council loosing candidate to post ANYTHING on campaign Facebook pages since election day. On Nov. 9 Kershner posted a thank you to her friends and family, admitting to some mistakes early in her term for which she was “…held to account…” Yesterday Michelle Luke finally posted a thank you note to her supporters. As of this post, Bill Knutzen and Ben Elenbass have yet to post anything since election day. I just don’t understand why more candidates don’t acknowledge their volunteers, donors, and other supporters publicly even before all of the votes are counted, but certainly after they have been.

  2. I agree Clayton did more poorly than I would have predicted, given he secured a few key endorsements and was a more energetic, imaginative candidate than, say, Robbins. He did more poorly then even the “slate-o-candidates” theory might predict. But north Bellingham, Edgemoor, east of the freeway, these are bastions of… I wouldn’t call it conservativism, these categories sort of break down in Bellingham (and elsewhere, I’d argue)… but a different sort of organizing ethos than in other parts of the city.

    These areas are even *physically different* than other parts of the city, in terms of sidewalks, road layout, numbers of cul-de-sacs, lot size, home design, neighborhood character, etc., etc. It would make an interesting study.

  3. Ken Bell did congratulate Mike McAuley. So he is the only other one as far as I know.

  4. I agree with your analysis that Clayton suffered through guilt by association – in this case with a bunch of coal-industry-funded right-wingers who showed their complete disrespect for anyone who disagreed with them by refusing to engage. Not congratulating their opponents is just more of the same cheap partisanship. No place for this “we don;t talk to terrorists” crap in a local election (if there ever is). Why are they so afraid to stand up on their hind feet and debate the issues? Could it be that they don’t have answers?

  5. I’m sure Clayton is a nice person and I like the fact that after the election he congratulated his opponent, which from what Riley said, the 4 conservative county council candidates have still not done. Clayton has seemed to weigh in on the side of a higher level standard for the Waterfront clean-up, however, many of the names on his endorsers list cause me great concern. The bulk of that list includes many names of people who are anti-environment and who were big supporters of the 4 conservative county council candidates including some of the people who were the forces behind the SaveWhatcom PAC. Names like: Dick Donahue, Chet Dow, Orphalee Smith, Greg Brown, Melodie Kirk, Dave Onkels, Ben Elenbaas, Roger Almskaar, and others.

    Until Clayton can separate himself from the people who fight the GMA, and who support the proposed coal terminal, and are on opposite sides of other important issues than what I’m on, I can’t support him as a candidate, and I imagine others feel that way too. I wish him well, though and respect his effort of even running for elected office.

  6. I echo Sandy Robson’s comment. The fellow-travelers secondarily associated with Clayton’s campaign were about as helpful to him as a 200-pound backpack affixed to a marathon runner.

    As a liberal, Bellingham needs something to challenge the council monoculture, so this was not necessarily good for Bellingham. Civic governing is on autopilot here. It should be done with more competitive examination of policy.

    Abe Jacobson

  7. Did the progressives that lost 4 years ago congratulate the Conservative candidates?

    • Wayne – absolutely. My husband called Kathy Kershner as soon as the vote count became clear. I believe it was Thursday or Friday of election week. It’s disappointing that she hasn’t extended that same basic courtesy to her successful opponent.

      While it doesn’t impact the outcome, it says a lot about civility.

      • There has been a lack of civility on both sides.

  8. I called Sam Crawford when I lost to him in 2007. It was unthinkable that I would not do that. In 2009, Mary Beth Teigrob never called or emailed or Facebooked. I have not heard from Ben – not when he decided to run or now that the results are in. Perhaps the TEA Party/Republicans just don’t believe in doing that as a policy. They are all pretty shell-shocked right now. No biggie.

  9. […] only other candidate I have heard mentioned is Clayton Petree. Since losing in Ward 4 to Pinky Vargas, Petree has since relocated to Ward 1 and has expressed mild interest in running this […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: