David Regan’s got a double-duty mission on Halloween.
He’s taking his toddler son trick-or-treating, as usual, he said. But instead of a traditional costume, he’s planning to dress up as his own city council campaign.
“I’ve got two four-foot signs, and I’m making a sandwich board, and I’m going to paint my face blue and red,” said Regan, who’s challenging Ty Stober for Vancouver City Council Position 5.
He said that Oct. 23 while canvassing the Northwest neighborhood in a late-game push to get his name out in front of voters before the general election on Nov. 5. He’s been doorbelling for the past five months, he said. So why not on Halloween? Why not trade campaign flyers for candy?
It’s all part of the strategy when challenging an incumbent: saturation. Get your name everywhere, visibly, loudly, all the time. Voters have likely seen Regan’s giant signs being driven around town with pickup trucks. He has four, he said — two attached to his own trucks and two more attached to supporters’ vehicles.
“You wouldn’t believe how many responses I’m getting from people just out of that,” Regan said.
A few things are making the match up for Position 5 interesting. The most quantifiable is money: This is by far the most expensive city council race on this year’s ballot. Regan, a bail bondsman, has spent $25,000 as of Wednesday, $7,000 of which he loaned his own campaign through his personal account and through his business, Regan Bail Bonds. He spent about $3,000 on signs, $1,600 on printed literature and another $700 on advertising.
In fact, of all seven people running for city council (including Bart Hansen, who’s running unopposed), Regan’s been outspent only by Stober himself. The incumbent has spent just more than $31,000, less than half of his enormous campaign fund.
Less quantifiable, but still noticeable, is the difference in personality and campaigning style between the two candidates.
Stober tends to respond to questions from constituents with somewhat wonkish answers — he comes across as a public servant who knows the specific procedures and policies that might apply to any given situation, but can jump from point A to point C in a way that might cause some voters to tune out.
The difference in style between the two candidates was on display Thursday evening, at a Northcrest Neighborhood Association Meeting at Northcrest Community Church.
In response to a question about the ability of neighborhood associations to develop their own parks, Stober launched into an explanation about the list of specific rights enumerated under neighborhood association action plans in Vancouver.
“I view the neighborhood action plan, those eight things, as the starting point. I don’t consider them the ending point,” Stober said. “I would like to see the neighborhood action plans expanded out, so you are all thinking about these items.”
Regan responded with a fond memory about the park he and his son used to go to, and how Regan had worked with the city to help fix a trash-pickup issue there.
Which style resonates most with voters will be decided on Nov. 5, but there’s little predictive information to draw from. Unlike other races on the ballot Tuesday, the Stober v. Regan match-up has always been a two-way race. Since primary races are used to whittle the field down to two candidates, the two men didn’t appear on the August ballot, and there aren’t yet any hard numbers showing support for either candidate.
But Stober has won a seat before, without an incumbency advantage. He was elected to his first term in 2015, beating his challenger, Linda Glover, by about 3 percentage points.
Two kinds of veterans, one open seat
Alternatively, the Position 6 seat is likely to see the closest race of the day.
The incumbent, Bill Turlay, decided against seeking a third term, cracking the seat wide open for the primary. Seven candidates sought a spot on the general election ballot, and two advanced with around 22 percent of the vote apiece: Sarah Fox and Jeanne Stewart.
They were separated by 123 votes, with Fox barely getting the edge over Stewart.
The candidate who ultimately wins will likely serve as a referendum on whether Vancouver prefers a familiar face or a persistent newcomer.
Stewart, who served 12 years on the city council and four years as a Republican on the Clark County Council, is a known entity. Whether that’s to her detriment or advantage lies in the eyes (and likely the political leanings) of voters.
Fox hasn’t served in an elected city office before, but not for lack of trying. This is the fourth time in two years the Camas city planner and U.S. Army veteran has sought a seat on the Vancouver City Council — twice through appointment and twice through election. Last year, she lost an election to incumbent Councilor Laurie Lebowsky by about 3 percentage points.
Fox and Stewart, too, have their own campaigning styles.
Stewart’s been slammed with campaigning, she said in a phone call with The Columbian last week.
“It’s been you-know-what to the wall, every minute of the day,” Stewart said.
But Stewart’s long history in local politics has also freed her of the scramble to gain name recognition and left her room to keep up with the issues.
At a city council workshop on Monday, as the council discussed how to raise revenue for a comprehensive package of new projects and services, Stewart listened from the audience. She made a few soft, incredulous noises to herself upon hearing about a proposed hike in park impact fees.
In past races, Stewart has described her style as no-nonsense. She prefers to stand on her hard-earned record, she’s said, and promote her values: collecting taxes deemed necessary, while spending money prudently.
Fox, for her part, comes across as unflappable. She’s mellow — even as she stood on top of an Interstate 205 overpass Friday for a sign-waving event, with cars rumbling below and wind whistling above, she never raised her voice.
She’s also finely tuned her campaign into an Army-efficient machine, carefully balanced with a full-time job and parenthood over her four council bids. She’s spent her time canvassing, holding one-on-one meetings and attending group events, she said.
“Trying to figure out how best to spend my time and energy, I pretty much split it up between those three things,” Fox said.
She’s happy to be out of the primary season, she said. Trying to differentiate yourself from six other candidates to voters and political groups is tough, she said.
“It’s nice to know exactly who you’re running against,” Fox said. “A lot more groups have come forward to support me.”
The sign-waving event was sponsored by the political committee with the Sierra Club, an environmental group that endorses green-leaning candidates.
Two quiet campaigners
If Regan’s incumbent-challenging strategy has counted on exposure, Maureen McGoldrick is doing the exact opposite.
McGoldrick, a former lawyer challenging Erik Paulsen for his Position 2 seat, did not respond to The Columbian’s attempts to reach her via phone and email for this story. She’s also done little campaigning: According to the Public Disclosure Commission, she’s raised less than $5,000 and therefore isn’t required to report campaign contributions or spending.
Despite forgoing most traditional hallmarks of a campaign, McGoldrick’s name has been on a general election ballot before. In 2017, she advanced to the November race alongside Scott Campbell, who died just before election day but still won in a landslide.
In that election, too, McGoldrick participated in few events and barely spoke with the press. The surest way to find her has been at forums hosted by the League of Women Voters of Clark County.
She attended both the primary forum over the summer and the most recent one, held Oct. 9 at the Vancouver Community Library.
She identified her top priority as establishing an overnight homeless shelter for women, as well as erecting apartment buildings at the Fort Vancouver Historic Site.
“We need to get as many people as possible off the streets as soon as possible,” McGoldrick said.
Based on the primary election results, her bid is a long shot. McGoldrick took home 20.6 percent of the vote, to Paulsen’s 65.2 percent.
Sitting outside Relevant Coffee on Oct. 23, Paulsen said he’s not confident, exactly.
“I never feel confident. I’m new at it, so I don’t have any idea what to expect,” said Paulsen, who was appointed to the city council earlier this year to replace Alishia Topper, who’d been elected as Clark County treasurer.
“I’ve never run a campaign before, and the only way you know if it’s successful or not is on Election Day. Having said all that, I think it’s going well,” Paulsen said.
A strategy manager for U.S. Bank Wealth Management, Paulsen said his campaign motto of “thoughtful leadership” seems to be resonating. He’s not sending out mailers and he’s posting few campaign signs, he said.
Instead, he wants voters to see the work he’s already doing on the council, and use that to make their decision.
“The best way I can state my case to the voters as to why I should be kept on the city council is to do an effective job as a city councilmember,” Paulsen said. “To prove that the council made the right choice when they appointed me, and that the voters should agree with that choice.”