July 21, 2023 10:00am

Knoxville Primary Prognostications

A majority of Power Poll members predicted incumbents in the Knoxville city primary would finish first in their races, with one exception.

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Knoxville, TN Correspondent
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Power Poll members recognized the power of incumbency in a survey this week about the Knoxville city primary. Four of the five races feature incumbents, and a majority of respondents predicted three of the four officials seeking reelection would easily get the most votes in the first round of the election.

The survey, which asked members to predict the top finisher in each of the competitive races on the ballot, has its limitations that should be taken into account in the interpretation of the results. The survey was not intended to gauge support for any of the candidates. After all, many Power Poll members live outside the city limits of Knoxville and cannot vote in the election, unless they qualify as property-eligible voters.

In the city primary, the top two finishers go on to the general elections, with two possible exceptions — the races for mayor and municipal judge. If a candidate in those races gets more than half the vote, he or she automatically wins without the need to prevail in the general election.

The survey doesn’t take into account the possible margin of victory. For example, a candidate who finishes first with a plurality in a three- or four-person primary race could lose in a two-candidate general election contest — and it’s happened in the recent past.

Knoxville city elections can veer in unexpected directions. Primary Election Day is still more than five weeks away, and anything can happen to affect voters between now and then. And the Power Poll isn’t a scientific survey of the city electorate. Still, the Power Poll can indicate the perceived strengths of candidates.

By far, the responses showed how strong respondents believe the incumbents to be. Nine out of 10 Power Poll members predicted Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon would be the top vote-getter in her reelection bid. No other candidate had such a strong showing. Mortgage lender Jeff Talman was seen as the strongest finisher by 5 percent, with another 5 percent unsure. Business owner R.C. Lawhorn and police reform advocate Constance Every didn’t receive any votes. While Kincannon’s showing in the survey was extraordinarily strong, she is one of the candidates in recent years who won in the general election after finishing second in the primary.

Incumbents also were the top picks in two of the three competitive City Council races. (Incumbent Charles Thomas is unopposed in the 5th District race, so it wasn’t included in the survey.) Councilwoman Lynne Fugate was pegged as the likely top finisher in the At-Large Seat A race by 71 percent of respondents, while Realtor Cameron Brooks was named by 13 percent. Darin Worsham, who is not running a full-fledged campaign, didn’t receive any votes. When Fugate was elected in 2019, she finished first in a two-way primary ahead of Charles Lomax Jr. by 14 percentage points. But the gap closed in the general election and she ultimately won the seat by just 79 votes.

The At-Large Seat B race is the only one without an incumbent, as Councilwoman Janet Testerman opted not to run so she could focus on running Young-Williams Animal Center. Power Poll members predicted former union president Debbie Helsley would get more primary votes than builder R. Bentley Marlow, 66 percent to 5 percent. But 29 percent of respondents said they weren’t sure who would finish first. Both candidates are guaranteed a spot in the general election.

Councilwoman Amelia Parker, who is running for reelection for At-Large Seat C, was the only incumbent who wasn’t predicted to finish first by a majority of Power Poll members. Fifty-five percent of respondents predicted developer Tim Hill, who has easily outdistanced all Council candidates in fundraising, would finish first, with Parker the prediction of 17 percent and Change Center Executive Director Matthew Best selected by 9 percent. Eighteen percent of respondents were unsure who would be the top vote-getter. Parker finished first in a five-way primary in 2019 and narrowly defeated Amy Midis in the general election.

In the race for municipal judge, incumbent Judge John R. Rosson Jr. is facing opposition for the first time since 2003. (Municipal judge is the only elective office in the city not subject to term limits.) Fifty-five percent of Power Poll members forecast that he would receive the most votes in the primary. Another 15 percent of respondents predicted Tyler Caviness would come in first, while 2 percent selected Andrew Beamer and 1 percent picked Mary L. Ward. More than one-fourth of the respondents, however, were unsure who would come out on top.

As with sports, predictions can be thrown out the window when the season starts because upsets happen — it’s why they play the games. Early voting begins Aug. 9 for the Aug. 29 primary.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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