Sandy Bradley rings 60 doorbells a night for SANE, the nuclear disarmament group. She raises money, registers new voters and talks up the congressional candidacy of Robert Lamson, who supports a nuclear freeze.
What she does not do on her rounds, not ever, is breathe a word about the presidential campaign.
"Trying to get people upset about Reagan is like beating your head against the wall," said Bradley, 37, a curly-haired, waif-like canvasser for SANE. "You're better off sticking to local candidates."
Ken Lane, 21, another recruit in the SANE army that will cover about 100,000 households in the Seattle area this year, agrees. Focusing on Reagan, he said, "is a waste of my time and energy."
This is a bad sign for Walter F. Mondale.
Of all the issues the Democratic presidential nominee is counting on to spark a come-from-behind surge, none has the voltage of war and peace. Of all the qualms voters have about President Reagan, none nags more than the perception in some quarters that he is a nuclear cowboy.
Of all the places where these concerns ought to translate into voting issues, none stands out more than this lovely city of hills and bays. The largest local employer here is Boeing, an aerospace company that has become increasingly dependent on military contracts, but the preeminent local fear is represented by the three Trident nuclear missile submarines stationed across Puget Sound.
The Reagan military buildup has fattened the local economy, but for many it also has transformed paradise into Ground Zero. It also has prompted Seattle to think hard about the nuclear dilemma.
In 1982, when the national nuclear freeze movement triggered after Reagan's election was at its peak, 20,000 Seattle residents turned up at the Kingdome for a forum on the nuclear threat.
"Peace has become a mainstream issue here," said Judy Tobin, who has raised $170,000 here in the last two years by organizing "peace" footraces ("legs against arms") and marathon dances ("give peace a dance.") "It's not something you only talk about in the privacy of your own bedroom," she said.
But Tobin and fellow peace activists acknowledge that a curious quiet has settled over the peace issue as it relates to the presidential campaign.
"It's as though people have gone asleep at the switch," said Donald Hopps, director of the Center for Peace and Justice of the Seattle Catholic archdiocese. "The heat is completely off. If you had told me a year ago that there would be no particular focus on a presidential campaign, I would have said, 'No way.' "
Have the voters and activists here been disarmed by Reagan's recent efforts to thaw relations with the Soviets? Apparently not. Interviews with several dozen voters at a neighborhood hardware store and outside a Boeing plant gate suggest that most see Reagan's meeting last week with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko as an election-year ploy.
Moreover, it is striking how many voters, unprompted, mention either Reagan's March 1983 "evil empire" speech or his "joke" this summer about bombing the Russians as the more genuine guide to the president's psyche.
Peace activists here search for other explanations for the lack of focus on the issue. Some cite infighting left over from the Democratic primaries; some say Mondale is too drab and cautious a candidate; some say Reagan is too congenial; some say it's the result of a tactical decision to zero in on winnable races.
"People want to hedge their bets," said Tobin. "If Reagan is reelected, they want to make bloody sure that the deck is stacked against him in Congress."
But does a movement with the presumed moral force of peace and disarmament pause to read the poll results or worry about personalities? Or is something else at work?
For all its emotional content, the peace issue is also monstrously complex. Interviews and surveys with voters here suggest that many see the logic to both sides of the nuclear argument -- the one that says having more weapons assures peace, and the one that says it assures war.
"People are afraid of the Russians, but they're also afraid of the weapons," said Hopps. "They don't see any clear path out."
Subject to such cross pressures, many voters here seem to be focusing their presidential choice on more mundane, clear-cut issues.
"I'd vote for Mondale, except I'm afraid he'd return to the social programs that cost too damn much," said Jim Hamby, a union machinist at Boeing. "But then again, I'm not really impressed with getting into World War III either."
As between the two perils, Hamby considers the first more clear and present; it is the one that will dictate his vote.
Even those who applaud Reagan's defense buildup don't necessarily consider it a reason to vote for him.
"I like the way the president doesn't mealy-mouth with those other countries," says Robert Schimpf, 43, a train switchman who was at the Gowan hardware store in Phinney Ridge, a heavily Democratic neighborhood of tightly packed wood-frame homes.
"Until we get a little closer communication with the Russian people and they understand we aren't any more interested in getting blown up than they are, we'd better damn sure have a bigger gun," he said.
But Schimpf, who voted for Reagan in 1980, doesn't plan to this time. "I'm a union man, and under Reagan the unions have gotten weaker."
Commercial fisherman Kelly Nash, 31, who arrived at the store with his 5-year-old son, puts the nuclear threat on top of his agenda.
"I'm scared to death of nuclear war," he said. "I've read a lot about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and I see that these Minuteman missiles can do 250 times the damage of the bombs that went off there."
But Nash said he doesn't back the freeze because "when your side is frozen, the other side could take advantage." Moreover, he says he thinks Reagan's military buildup was justified to reverse the slide of the Carter years. In a second term, though, "I'm afraid he might go too far." Nash is voting for Mondale.
So is Laura Blankenship, 35, who sees no particular complexity to the war-and-peace issue. "I think the man is crazy," she said of the president. "We are a lot closer to war because of him."
But others don't live with the same fears. Bruce Craig, 24, a Boeing engineer, offered a straightforward no when asked if he worried about nuclear war. "I worry about paying the heating bills," he said.
Not many people here saw the Reagan-Gromyko talks in any but a cynical light. Jim Spring, a bridge tender, approvingly described an editorial cartoon in the local paper that showed the president removing a "Star Wars" movie marquee from in front of the White House and replacing it with one advertising the film "Gandhi."
"That gets it about right," he said, voice dripping with sarcasm.
But Spring said he will vote for Reagan anyhow, in part because he doesn't like the alternative, and in part because while he'd like to see better relations with the Soviets, he also sees a need for a nuclear arsenal.
So do most voters here, apparently. Several months ago the Washington Association of Churches distributed a questionnaire on nuclear issues in churches throughout the state. About 32,000 churchgoers responded, 80 percent of them Roman Catholics, and the results make clear that most do not share the view of the nuclear equation taken by their archbishop, Raymond G. Hunthausen, who has called the Trident base at Bangor, Wash., an "Auschwitz" and who is withholding half of his income tax to protest the nuclear buildup.
The survey showed that while 90 percent favored a mutual and verifiable reduction in nuclear arms, 64 percent said they felt "safer knowing that the U.S. has nuclear weapons"; 61 percent agreed that "if we weaken our nuclear power to any great extent, Russia or China would take advantage and attack us"; and 58 percent disagreed with the proposition that "I believe possession of any nuclear weapon is immoral."
Also, 59 percent agreed that "a growing defense industry has a positive effect on our economy."
The Seattle area was hit hard by the recession of 1981-82, with the timber industry devastated by high interest rates and with Boeing's commercial sales drying up for the same reason. But a steady infusion of defense contracts -- for the AWACS reconnaissance plane, the air-launched cruise missile and the basing mode for the MX missile -- helped keep the giant aerospace concern afloat. It now does 29 percent of its business in military contracts, compared with 10 percent in 1979, and its work force has increased from 57,800 last December to 63,000 now.
Indeed, the economy of the city is "huckety-buck," in the words of Chamber of Commerce President George Duff. Unemployment is below 8 percent, and the port is thriving.
Some say that is why war and peace have not become a crucial issue here. "People look at their pocketbooks first," said Marilyn Ward, a Republican who opposes Reagan and helped organize the nuclear forum that attracted 20,000 people two years ago.
Still, that fails to explain why Seattle is represented in Congress by Rep. Mike Lowry (D-Wash.), one of the strongest pro-freeze legislators, or why there is enough mixed feeling about the pork-barrel value of defense spending here that when the Navy wanted to add a new facility that would have meant as many as 15,000 jobs, local opposition helped push the project 30 miles north to Everett.
Nor does it explain why, driving through the Phinney Ridge neighborhood where "Save the Humans" and "You Can't Hug Your Kids With Nuclear Arms" bumper stickers predominate, there are far more yard signs for Lowry than for Mondale -- even though Lowry is not seriously contested in this election.
"There is just not the interest in this race yet," conceded Norma Miller, Democratic chairman of the 32nd legislative district, which includes Phinney Ridge. "There is something of a defeatist attitude. No one believes, deep down inside, that we are going to get rid of Reagan."
She added, however, that she believes voters will turn their attention to the peace issue in the campaign's final month. Other peace activists, such as those workng for Freeze Voter 84, also agree, and they are trying to focus on the presidential race -- unlike SANE, whose dozen canvassers around the country are all working for congressional candidates.
Helena Knapp, a Freeze Voter 84 board member, said: "I cannot think of a single thing worse for the cause of peace than to wake up on Nov. 7 and say it was so close and we didn't try."