Knox County Mayor Race Seems a Little One-sided of Late

Tim Burchett's effort to knock on every door in Knox County is approaching 4,000 houses. On the other hand, I wonder if former Sheriff Tim Hutchison has ever knocked on a door without a search warrant in his hand.

Burchett also has raised over $100,000 and Hutchison is stuck in the $25,000 range, according to the last report.

In the race for Knox County mayor, at this juncture, is it about who will win, or is it about how bad Hutchison will lose?

This race was billed as a Clash of the Titans—two longtime officeholders who have never lost an election going head-to-head in a Republican primary. But Burchett, who is a campaigning machine, has been methodically touching all the bases and running a flawless campaign. He has done this while serving in the Legislature and even taking time out to have an appendectomy.

Burchett also has two campaign assets: political pro Dean Rice and Allison (Mrs. Tim) Burchett. He has a large group of volunteers also canvassing on his behalf. Hutchison is, as usual, micromanaging his own campaign.

Hutchison has a hardcore group of supporters from his previous races for sheriff, but he doesn't seem to be getting any traction among the voting public at large. His financial difficulties and running for an office outside law enforcement seem to have him back on his heels. He's off his game. The Hutchison team had tried putting together a slate of county office candidates for the primary, but the effort seems to have fizzled.

With the primary less than a month away, advertising will be rolling out for both candidates. Burchett has the money for radio, television and mailouts. It's questionable whether Hutchison will have the money to be competitive. Hutchison needs to score big in the debate next week. The League of Women Voters and the East Tennessee Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists will sponsor the event at 7 p.m. on April 16 at West High School. But a Hail Mary attack on Burchett at the debate could backfire. Burchett is a likeable candidate and he has been a public figure in Knoxville for a very long time. People know him. Driving up Burchett's negatives will be hard to accomplish, since his approval rating is in the Jimmy Duncan range.

There may be one thing in Hutchison's favor. There are hot County Commission races in South Knoxville and in Halls. Hutchison supporters Paul Pinkston, south, and Lillian Williams, north, may increase the turnout, which would benefit Hutchison.

The rationale for Lewis Cosby to run for county mayor as an independent was to avoid a bruising Republican primary. Under a best-case scenario for Cosby, Hutchison would win the primary by a narrow margin and split the Republicans. Cosby could then capitalize on an anti-Hutchison vote from Republicans and possibly pick up some Democrats. If Burchett wins big, then Cosby will have an uphill battle for attention and credibility, despite his popularity with Knoxville media. Cosby does have the ability to self-fund and he can remind voters he was the guy uncovering and commenting on financial irregularities in the Ragsdale administration.

If Burchett does win by a good margin, he will have momentum going into the general election. There will be a Democrat in the race, underfunded and unknown. You know, what's-his-name?

The Democrats ran spirited races against Hutchison in his last two campaigns for sheriff and his margins were decreasing over the years. This election is his last hurrah. He either sweeps triumphantly into office or he is probably done in local politics.

There may be a groundswell of Hutchison support out there, a great silent group just itching to get to the polls and return the former sheriff to power. But so far, it's been awfully quiet.

I don't have the latest figures, the last candidate financial reports were in January. But the most telling thing I noticed about them was that Sheriff Jimmy "JJ" Jones, who is running virtually unopposed, had more money than Hutchison. Hutchison has raised more money since then, I'm sure. But if it were substantial I suspect we would have heard about it.