The pace and tone of the Knoxville mayoral race has changed, with the one-on-one choice between Madeline Rogero and Mark Padgett instead of a multi-candidate field.
Padgett has been hitting Rogero for votes to increase property taxes when she was on County Commission back in the 1990s. Rogero points out she voted for budgets proposed by notorious free-spending liberals like County Executive Dwight Kessel. One wonders why Padgett didn't raise this issue three months ago and continue to pound it week after week. It might have had more resonance with Republican voters who likely voted in larger numbers in the primary than they will in the general.
Rogero, with a 49 percent margin in the primary, has likely made a mistake in directly engaging with Padgett, who finished a distant second. But with the number of forums and television debates it is hard for her to avoid him. She should have at least ignored the endorsements Padgett got from the other primary candidates. No one expected them to support Rogero and her response made an afternoon blog post into a two- or three-day story.
The disgusting mailer that went out, ostensibly in support of Padgett, could have the most significant impact on the general election than anything else. It's a shame, since it was, I believe, out of the control of either campaign. Both sides have repudiated it. I think the most significant impact it will have might be to motivate Rogero voters to go to the polls. There might have been a tendency to assume that Rogero has it, given her big lead in the primary. But the attack on her supporters has led to a lot of anger, and anger is a motivator for voters.
(I was one of those who had hoped an outstanding businessman with a record of community service would run for mayor but friends say allegations about his personal life—the "family values" card—prevented it. I thought Knoxville was too sophisticated and broad-minded for such a stupid issue to arise. But there it was in the mailer, so likely it would have been an anonymous attack if the businessman had run. But I still think Knoxville is better than that; I think it would have resulted in a net positive reaction instead of being hurtful. Not hurtful in the sense of the election results. But you can't blame a potential candidate for not wanting to put himself in such a position personally.)
What do we make of Padgett's poll showing he is within 6 percent of Rogero?
It's hard to say, but a few observations.
He said during the primary his internal polling showed him to be within 7 points of Rogero. The election results were a drastically different story.
A one-question poll, like the one Padgett released, can be statistically valid, but it is hard to judge from outside. Without cross tabs in order to examine other questions and other results to determine if the poll is internally consistent, there is no way to know.
To believe the results of this poll, you have to believe that Rogero has dropped from her 49 percent total in the primary down to 38 percent—and that even though early voting is over and the election is next Tuesday, 30 percent of the likely voters are undecided. I would suggest that if you are undecided at this point you shouldn't vote. And I don't think you will.
Though the campaign has sharpened in the general, has Padgett's effort really resulted in his gaining 21 points? Perhaps he picked up all the Ivan Harmon voters. I suspect he did pick up the Joe Hultquist voters since Hultquist's small total was blamed by Rogero supporters for denying her an out and out victory with over 50 percent in the primary.
If the Padgett poll is accurate and he is pulling close, or if he wins on Tuesday, it will be the biggest local upset since Randy Tyree defeated Kyle Testerman back in the 1970s.
My honest opinion? Padgett's poll is bullshit.