What Do We Know (About the Mayoral Race)?

In a city race, who votes and why are often hard to predict

To paraphrase Howard Baker's famous line, what do we want to know about the Knoxville mayor's race and when will we know it?

We already know that Mark Padgett is a formidable fund-raiser. He said at the beginning of the campaign he would raise over $300,000 for the race, which I considered overly optimistic. He'll get there and then some. What we want to know now, is whether he is spending all his time fund-raising instead of campaigning. (But we also know the best way to get people to vote for you is to get them to contribute to your campaign.)

We know Padgett will have the most money for television advertising down the home stretch, likely during the last six weeks. What we don't know is how effective the ads will be and whether he left it too late. And whether television advertising is the most effective way to win a city race.

Ivan Harmon is reminding everyone that he is the only Republican in the race. What we know is that while Republicans may like Ivan, they have not been voting with their checkbooks. His fund-raising has been abysmal. What we don't know, and I suspect Ivan doesn't either, is whether people who like him and have voted for him for legislative jobs really want to elect him as chief executive to run the city.

We also know, from Padgett's contribution list, that there are a lot of Republicans who view Padgett, not Harmon, as the alternative against Madeline Rogero.

We know that Rogero has a reservoir of support from her previous race and has experience running city-wide. While the other candidates were surveying the neighborhoods, Rogero already knew who to go see and talk with there. She is also the most well versed on individual issues around the city, from her work as a city department head and being involved in community issues over the years. What we don't know is whether her being well versed on the issues translates into the best chief executive in the coming years. Some Padgett people suggest Rogero might be good on details while Padgett is the guy with the vision to lead the city. What we don't know is whether Padgett is able to sell the idea that he has a vision, or even an issue.

What we don't know is whether Rogero will use her smaller campaign budget to try to match Padgett's TV air war. Or will she put her resources into buses, vans, and volunteers to get her people to the polls? In a city election it is all about who votes. If you get your people to the polls, you win. Rogero has less money, but she has a lot of small contributors, people whom she can concentrate on getting to the polls. Can a get-out-the-vote, under-the-radar campaign win against big-money advertising?

What we don't know is whether the Democrats will unite behind one candidate to ensure that a Democrat occupies the mayor's office or whether the vote splits between Rogero and Padgett. What we don't know is how rank-and-file Democrats feel about big Republican checkbooks being opened for Padgett to "stop" Rogero.

Downtown West is traditionally the largest early voting site and also home to a large Republican vote. The addition of a state Senate race, with Republican candidates, will bring out some voters who might not have paid a lot of attention to the mayor's race. Given Marilyn Roddy and Becky Duncan Massey as candidates, I think you can expect a big turnout at Downtown West. Rogero isn't as strong there as she is South, East, and North.

I think Rogero began the race ahead, with name recognition and experience. I think Padgett has come on strong. I thought at one point Rogero might win the primary and avoid a run-off. But given Padgett's advertising campaign, a run-off would appear likely. What we know is that Padgett will have more money for the general election if it goes to a run-off. What we don't know is whether Rogero keeps some in reserve or whether she goes all in to win in the primary.