Voters in Tuesday’s election displayed one of the greatest north-south splits since the Civil War as they chose John Talbott to challenge incumbent Jack Geraghty for the job of Spokane mayor.
Talbott was the clear choice of voters in most north Spokane precincts; Geraghty was the solid favorite among South Side voters.
Talbott said he found the split interesting but had not picked up any political fault lines as he talked to voters around the city.
“I felt I was getting as much positive feedback from people on the North Side as I did on the South Side,” he said. “I think they’re all looking for decisiveness.”
Talbott’s second-place finish caught Geraghty by surprise and will force a shift in the incumbent’s campaign strategy.
Conventional wisdom said state Rep. Duane Sommers would be his challenger, a tired Geraghty said Wednesday afternoon. “Now, we have to really look at this.”
Geraghty downplayed the significance of the north-south split, saying he faced similar vote returns four years ago when he and Councilman Joel Crosby topped a five-person primary field, but he “turned that around in the general.”
But an analysis of the vote totals in the two elections shows the split is far more pronounced now than in 1993.
Four years ago, the five candidates all had pockets of support that allowed them to win precincts around the city. Precincts usually represent a few contiguous blocks and fewer than 800 voters.
But this year, the also-rans in the primary - Sommers and former Mayor Sheri Barnard - pulled in the most votes in fewer than a dozen of the city’s 190 precincts. Virtual unknown David Howell won a single precinct on Spokane’s northern tip, picking up two of the four votes cast in that neighborhood.
The rest of the precincts were split between Geraghty and Talbott.
Barnard, who finished fourth in the vote count Tuesday night, said the north-south division doesn’t surprise her.
“I did sense a North Side split,” said the former mayor and two-term councilwoman. “I felt when I was out in the North Side of town, people were upset about the downtown redevelopment project.
“I didn’t get any of that on the South Side. I think a lot of angry people voted for Talbott.”
Geraghty collected the most votes in precincts that cover most of the South Hill and Moran Prairie, along with downtown and the Logan neighborhood where he grew up.
Talbott topped the vote totals in most of Indian Trail, where he lives, the northwest and north-central city and the East Central neighborhood that extends from Interstate 90 to the ridge of the South Hill.
The candidates split precincts in West Central and Browne’s Addition, making those neighborhoods the primary’s equivalent of Civil War border states.
Chris Marr, Geraghty’s campaign co-chairman, said the North Side alignment for Talbott means the incumbent needs to work harder to promote the neighborhood council program he championed. “I certainly see some areas where we need to get out and knock on some doors to pick up support.”
Marr said he thinks some of Sommers’ votes and most of Barnard’s will go to Geraghty in November. “I think Sheri’s votes weren’t anti-Jack but were longtime supporters of Sheri,” he said.
But Martin Burnette, vice president of the North Side Republican Action Club, said he thinks a lot of the other candidates’ support will swing to Talbott. With 33 percent of voters choosing Geraghty, that means 67 percent of the voters are “swing votes … from people who did not agree Jack was moving Spokane forward. It’s likely the challenger has a strong position to pick many of those votes up.”
Talbott actually won more precincts, although the precincts that backed Geraghty tended to have higher turnouts. The incumbent enjoyed an advantage of more than 2-1 in the absentee balloting.
Overall, only about one voter in five bothered to cast a ballot in the primary.
The low voter turnout leaves Marr wondering how important the primary results actually are.
“The real election starts today,” he said. “This particular choice energizes a lot of people that maybe were lulled into a sense of complacency.”
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