- The Washington Times - Monday, September 9, 2002

Winning a write-in campaign is an uphill fight, but with a lot of grit and a little luck, it can be done, according to those who have pulled it off.
New York state Sen. Serphin Maltese, who won his legislative seat with a write-in campaign in 1990, told The Washington Times that educating voters is the key for write-in candidates like D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the Rev. Willie F. Wilson both of whom are seeking the mayoral nomination in Tuesday's Democratic Party primary.
"The only thing that does it is personal phone calls and personal contact," Mr. Maltese said. "Despite the fact that we're in the TV age, it's all personal contact."
Mr. Maltese who still distributes pencils from his 1990 campaign when visiting schools in his Queens, N.Y., district said a successful write-in campaign depends on making as many visits as possible with district residents as well as cramming those sessions with information on where and how to write in a candidate on a particular ballot.
On Election Day, the Maltese campaign brought in hundreds of volunteers, dispatching them throughout the district in buses and taxis to get voters to the polls. The effort paid off with a 6,243 to 237 victory over Mr. Maltese's opponent also a write-in candidate.
Both the Williams and Wilson campaigns could take comfort in knowing that other write-in mayoral candidates have done surprisingly well this year.
In Mt. Airy, a Frederick County town about 45 miles from the District, write-in candidate James Holt lost his bid in May to unseat longtime incumbent Gerald R. Johnson, 492 to 311.
But he might have won the mayor's job in the town of 6,400 if more of his supporters had written his complete name. About 250 ballots bearing only his last name were thrown out.
And write-ins have also been competitive in metropolitan areas: The mayor of Long Beach, Calif., with a population of 461, 000, was a write-in.
Writing in a candidate's name may seem like a simple concept to those who follow political races, said University of Maryland government and politics professor James Gimpel.
But the reality is most voters are not well informed and may not recognize that a candidate is eligible for a position if he or she isn't listed on the ballot.
Tuesday's winner may prove to be the candidate with the best Election Day organization.
"I think that Mayor Williams needs to get his precinct captains out there to mobilize especially in those low-turnout areas," Mr. Gimpel said.
Suzanne Eisold, who is U.S. Rep. Joe Skeen's chief of staff, said the New Mexico Republican won a general election as a write-in in 1980. Ms. Eisold said television, radio and mail campaigns were critical to the effort.
The campaign got a lot of free publicity, she said, with news organizations covering the candidate going in and out of courts attempting to have his name placed on the ballot. While those efforts failed, the battle energized Mr. Skeen's supporters and ultimately contributed to the representative's victory, she said.
Mr. Skeen received 61, 564 votes, while his opponent, who was on the ballot, accrued 55, 085 in a district that was more than two-thirds Democratic and included 290,456 registered voters.
But organization and publicity still can't save an unpopular incumbent, warns Diane Jacobus, who served as the campaign manager for Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neill in June.
Ms. Jacobus said Ms. O'Neill had eight successful years of service as mayor, giving her the campaign boost she needed. Ms. O'Neill won the nonpartisan mayoral primary in the state's fifth-largest city in June, receiving 11,032 votes of the 29, 569 cast in the election. The election's runner-up was the only candidate listed on the ballot.
While Mr. Gimpel says educating voters is important, he acknowledged that write-in candidates also need to have the means to sustain a long campaign.
"Most write-in campaigns fail not only because it takes a voter to go in and scribble something down," Mr. Gimpel said, "but because they're unknown and not well funded."

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