Gloria Johnson favored to win

Scott Frith
Government/Politics columnist

For Republicans, there hasn’t been a lot of good news lately. Hillary Clinton is ahead in the polls. Donald Trump keeps saying dumb things. Gloria Johnson is probably heading back to the Legislature.

That’s right.

Former one-term, Democratic state representative Gloria Johnson appears likely to defeat Republican Rep. Eddie Smith in the 13th District state house race.

Smith hasn’t done a bad job. By most accounts, Smith has done fine work in Nashville, stayed away from scandal, and served well on the House Transportation and Education committees.

Unfortunately for Smith, none of that matters.

Eddie Smith won’t lose because of any action or inaction in Nashville. Instead, Johnson looks likely to win because of the cyclical nature of voter turnout and other local trends revealed in the Aug. 4 election.

Johnson was first elected in 2012 in a wave of voters supporting President Obama’s re-election. When Obama wasn’t on the ballot in 2014, Johnson lost. Now, she will again have the benefit of the higher Democratic voter turnout that accompanies a presidential election.

But that’s only part of the story.

More interesting are the local trends revealed at the precinct level this August. While other commentators have noted that Johnson outpolled Smith in their respective primaries, few seemed to have noticed the spike in Democratic turnout in the 4th and Gill neighborhood and Sequoyah Hills where Democratic county commission candidates greatly outperformed expectations.

In fact, the higher Democratic turnout in 4th and Gill nearly tipped the second district commission race to Laura Kildare.

In the fourth district, Republican Hugh Nystrom won handily, but unexpectedly lost Sequoyah Hills to Democrat Marleen Davis.

Both precincts are in the Smith/Johnson district. If Gloria Johnson can maintain this same level of Democratic enthusiasm in November, Eddie Smith’s hopes for re-election are in trouble.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons why this could be wrong. First, an unexpected surge of Trump voters could help Smith. Second, disillusioned Democrats (particularly former Bernie Sanders supporters) could stay home as a protest against Hillary Clinton.

Unexpected things happen in politics. For example, in August many believed state Rep. Martin Daniel would lose re-election in the 18th district. He had insulted Muhammad Ali on Twitter on the day after Ali’s death. Later, he (allegedly) assaulted a political opponent on a local radio show.

What happened? Daniel won easily and confirmed what I have always believed about my good friends in West Knoxville. They field great high school soccer teams and send nutty white guys to Nashville. (Remember Stacey Campfield?)

It’s only August. Hang on for an eventful election season!

Scott Frith is a local attorney.
You can visit his website at www.pleadthefrith.com

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