At Darya Farivar’s primary night party, her mother said her daughter’s run for an open State House seat in northeast Seattle served as a lesson for local progressives. A young woman with the right ideas can win, even if she doesn’t raise the most money.
Farivar, who currently enjoys more than a two-point lead in the 46th Legislative District's contest, faced an uphill battle against big fundraisers. Pediatrician Lelach Rave and treasurer of the King County Democrats Melissa Taylor each raised around $200,000, making them, respectively, the second- and third-highest fundraisers for a state legislative seat in the entire primary. But with less than $70,000 in the bank, Farivar managed to win the primary over the more moderate Seattle Times pick and the better-connected progressive.
“Maybe it actually isn’t just about money,” Farivar said in a phone interview. “It was just so validating to see that we can actually do this with a lot of hard work and with some people really believing in us.”
Farivar credited her win to relentless door-knocking and a key endorsement from the Stranger Election Control Board (something about a pillow?). But now that she’ll be running against a prolific fundraiser who is lukewarm on rent control and inclusionary zoning, she’ll need her district’s entire progressive left to rally around her to win in November.
How to Win a Primary on a Budget
Sunshine Cheng, a first-time campaign manager, described her young team’s work for Farivar as “building a boat while it’s floating down the river.”
One of the campaign’s biggest challenges on that river was finding money. When Farivar decided to run for the State House, advisors told her the magic number was $150,000. Candidates Rave, Taylor, and Nancy Connolly all hit that number, and Farivar–well, she said she tried.
She learned much of what she knows about running for office, including fundraising, from Emerge Washington, a program that demystifies campaigning for prospective women candidates.
Emerge Washington Executive Director Emily Carmichael said that first-time candidates often make the mistake of not looking deep enough in their social networks for donors. Farivar said she called up as many contacts as possible, but Carmichael noted that she may have run into some structural barriers. Older, more established candidates likely have more of those connections just based on the fact that they have lived longer lives and have had more experiences.
In cases where candidates cannot keep up with the fundraising prowess of their competitors, Progressive Strategies NW’s Ben Anderstone, who consulted Farivar, said that campaigns must compensate with a strong ground game. After all, as Farivar’s campaign quickly learned, door-knocking is dirt cheap.
He said face-to-face conversation is the best way to make a lasting impression, especially in a race that’s composed of first-time candidates. Carmichael agreed, adding that in a Democrat-on-Democrat race such as this one, all the votes are up for grabs, so it’s important to hit as many doors as possible.
“I can’t tell you how many people told me that I was the only person to come to their door since Bob Ferguson during his run for county council,” Farivar said.
Once you get to those doors, Anderstone said the best way to maximize your time is to say something new. For Farivar, she said she and her campaign workers would introduce themselves and then listen to the voters' concerns.
But of course, all the campaigns knocked doors, and it’s safe to say that asking voters about their concerns isn’t a revolutionary strategy either. While Anderstone described Farivar’s success as a “dramatic over-performance,” founder and principal of Fincher Consulting, Crystal Fincher, who consulted Taylor, said that the results of the primary were the “most constant and predictable outcome in Seattle politics.”
Fincher continued, noting that for at least the last 10 years, candidates with endorsements from The Stranger were shoe-ins for the general. She said it's as the old saying goes, “There are two political parties in Seattle: The Seattle Times and The Stranger.”
But Fincher also noted that The Stranger’s blessing does not win a candidate the general.
How to Win the General (Maybe)
Farivar said her campaign’s strategy won’t change too much as they eye the general, which is coming up on November 8.
“We're going to keep doing what we've been doing, hopefully with more support, hopefully with more volunteers, hopefully with a little bit more money to make sure that our voice continues to get heard,” Farivar said.
So far, Farivar’s chances look pretty good. Combined with Taylor, the Obvious Progressive vote share in the 46th stands at 51%. Conventional wisdom holds that Seattle’s general electorate leans younger and more left-leaning than its primary electorate, so Farivar should have the wind at her back.
But what do moderates do when progressives scare them a little? They raise more money and print out mean mailers about them being Antifa. Of course, Rave hasn’t gone negative, and she has shown no signs that she will, but Anderstone said that when a candidate with a lot of money feels threatened, that’s often the direction they take.
“There's a risk of the other candidates saying, ‘Well, I said enough nice things about myself. What else can I say?’ That can turn negative real fast,” he said.
Rave didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Right now, Farivar’s campaign doesn’t have the money to run any kind of counter attack, so her best response to Rave going negative would be not to reciprocate, Anderstone said. Instead, he thinks she should spend her money to advertise herself.
Flyers of any kind cost campaigns big time: Rave so far has spent about as much on mailers as Farivar has spent on her entire campaign. Farivar has spent about 10% of her campaign budget on mailers. If she hopes to be competitive with other communication strategies besides door-knocking, then she’ll need money.
With big fundraisers Taylor and Nancy Connolly out of the running, tapping into those networks might be a good place for Farivar to start. Neither Taylor nor Connolly responded to my request for comment, but when I asked about help from former candidates, Farivar hinted that her campaign would announce something soon.
Anderstone said he would be “very surprised if we don't see a consolidation on the left” between Taylor and Farivar. This seems especially possible, since Taylor has shown a desire to promote a more diverse electorate as cofounder of a PAC that has supported Black women running for the State Legislature.
Farivar said she has already seen more support since her win on primary night. And, if nothing else, people will flock to her for her “underdog” story, Anderstone said.
Farivar’s win may be somewhat of an underdog story in 2022, but she hopes that one day a young woman of color winning a primary with the second-least amount of funding will become more commonplace.
She said she had a lot going for her, like a supportive family and connections at Emerge, but she still didn’t expect much going into the race.
Now, she’s more sure than ever that young people of color can win elections. She wants to see more of it, starting in the 46th Legislative District.