Thursday, August 7, 2008

Upset Thursday in Tennessee? [UPDATE: or not]

Could a major upset be brewing in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in Tennessee? Although six candidates were on the ballot in today's election, it had been widely assumed by the state media and other observers that this was a two-man race between Robert Tuke of Nashville and Mike Padgett of Knoxville. But with 38 percent of the precincts reporting, Gary Davis of Nashville -- who lost the 2006 Senate primary by a whopping 79%-10% to Harold Ford, Jr. -- has a slight lead with 25.3 percent of the vote to Tuke's 24.6%. Padgett trails with 21%, and Mark Clayton isn't too far behind him with 18.7%.

[UPDATE: As more precincts report in, it looks like Tuke is pulling away. However, it appears that Davis will finish a strong second, and Padgett is in a close race for third with Clayton. That's quite surprising, methinks.] [UPDATE 2: Final numbers: Tuke 32%, Davis 22%, Padgett 19%, Clayton 18%. The Tennessean agrees that Davis's strong showing was a big surprise.]

More locally, an upset also appears possible on the other side of the aisle, in the Republican primary for State Representative in the 18th District -- my district. Early returns show a surprisingly tight race between incumbent Stacey Campfield -- he of the red Mustang and the giant red signs all over town -- and challenger Ron Leadbetter. Based solely on early-voting ballots, the tally is Campfield 49.6%, Leadbetter 47.3%. Updated results are trickling in here.

[UPDATE: Once all the results were in, Campfield ended up winning fairly comfortably, 54% to 43%. And maybe the relative closeness wasn't quite as surprising as I thought: apparently Leadbetter outspent Campfield 2-to-1.]

I met both candidates at the polling place tonight, and chatted at some length with Rep. Campfield. Turns out he has a blog, and he recently linked to my Flickr gallery of election photos. I guess he's something of a controversial and polarizing figure, but he seemed like a nice guy in person. Anyway, I could be entirely wrong about this, but I don't think he expected to be in a close race for his political life tonight. Back in 2006, he received 76% of the vote running against a pair of primary challengers. He won the 2004 primary more narrowly, 50.2% to 45.5%, but he wasn't an incumbent then; he was running for an open seat. (I mention only the primaries because they're the real test for a GOP candidate in the 18th legislative district -- a.k.a. "the fightin' 18th" -- which, like most of this area, is overwhelmingly Republican.)

Here are a couple of relevant photos from this evening -- of Campfield campaigning at the Cedar Bluff polling place (which is, according to Campfield, the largest precinct in the state), and of Campfield and Leadbetter side-by-side there:

IMG_0245.JPG IMG_0247.JPG

I've published more election pictures in a post on my Photoblog.

Meanwhile, in the county general election, it looks like the Republicans will maintain their tight grip on Knox County government, despite the recent scandals. All the GOP candidates for countywide office are winning with at least 58% of the vote.

UPDATE: Yup. For better or worse, the "kick the bums out" sentiment of February's primary seemed to totally disappear in the general. Despite pleas from some commentators asking voters to "finish what you started," turnout was a paltry 18 percent, and all but one of the folks targeted by the website "Remember Black Wednesday" were victorious. (Commissioner Chuck Bolus was the lone exception, losing to Amy Broyles.)

From the Knoxville News-Sentinel:
[Democratic sheriff candidate Randy] Tyree said that low voter turnout Thursday compared to the Feb. 5 election might have been to blame for his loss.

"My hunch is that scandal fatigue set in," Tyree said, referring to the political turmoil that has shaken Knox County for the past year and a half. "What has happened between now and Feb. 5? There's obviously been a huge drop in the interest of the voters who are out there. ... We are all just sort of mystified and deeply disappointed with the voter turnout."
Robert Bratton, the Democratic candidate for county trustee who I photographed greeting voters last night, also sounds rather disappointed, and perhaps a little bitter about his 61%-39% loss:
"There was never any dispute that the offices were overstaffed, that there's cronyism everywhere," Bratton said. "I was surprised that the public said that's OK. It was basically, do you want experience and keep everything the way they are, where they're hiring their cousins and brothers, or do you want less experience and change? I guess people think our county offices are running just fine."
I express no opinion about whether these results are good or bad, but they're certainly interesting, and perhaps a bit surprising, at least in terms of the margins. If there was ever going to be an election when the Democrats could gain some power in Knox County -- or at least do a little better 38-42 percent in most races! -- this was it. And it didn't happen.

P.S. One blogger writes:
Many "reformers" are bemoaning the election of Sherry Witt, Fred Sisk, and JJ Jones as signs that the voters don't care about the Black Wednesday scandal. This is simply not true. ... I heard Scott Emgee being interviewed on WNOX during the campaign process and he couldn't even articulate what it was that the Register of Deeds did. Sherry Witt was obviously the more qualified candidate. The same holds true for Fred Sisk, and for JJ Jones.
P.P.S. There was at least one major upset in East Tennessee last night, though -- in the far northeastern corner of the state, in a Republican congressional primary:
Being linked to "big oil" turned into a big problem for Tennessee freshman Rep. David Davis, who became the first congressman from that state to lose in a primary in more than four decades.

Johnson City Mayor Phil Roe beat Davis by a 500-vote margin Thursday in the solidly Republican 1st District in the northeastern corner of the state. ...

Congressional incumbents from Tennessee are rarely voted out of office. Statewide, the last time an incumbent was defeated in a party primary was 1966 when Democrat Tom Murray lost to Ray Blanton in what was then the 7th District. Blanton won the general election then became governor in 1974.
The unofficial final vote tally is 25,916 to 25,416. (Hat tip: my dad.)

P.P.P.S. Meanwhile, in West Tennessee, voters -- in Michael Silence's words -- "turned away a race-baiter and re-elected a Jew in a predominantly black district."