A few weeks ago I wrote that Knoxville needed the next Cas Walker, a people’s champion, someone more concerned with Chert Pitt Road than Cherokee Country Club, to emerge. Knoxvillians certainly settled on an establishment outsider as their next mayor, just not one from the mold of Cas Walker. Indya Kincannon, a Princeton educated former school board chair and aid to Mayor Rogero edged out local businessman and philanthropist Eddie Mannis by 4.5 points Tuesday night in what many would describe as an upset.
Mannis bested Kincannon in the primary by nearly double digits. In the aftermath of the primary, many pundits and politicos were ready to coronate Mannis. Kincannon, they thought, would be a much less challenging opponent than the well funded and better networked Marshall Stair, who finished third in the primary. They miscalculated.
I stated at the time and maintain today that Mannis would probably beat Stair head to head. Stair’s politics are nebulous. Many support him because they like him, not his unarticulated political beliefs. Kincannon on the other hand would probably be comfortable being describe as a leftist. Mannis, a moderate Rockefeller republican, walked right out of a big primary win and into an uphill battle. Kincannon wisely made the supposedly nonpartisan race partisan, something Stair would have struggled to do. The political geography of the new Knoxville favors the democrat, no matter how liberal, over the republican, no matter how moderate. Thus is the nature of our politics in 2019.
Much has been made of Kincannon’s big victory in her home precinct in the Fourth and Gill neighborhood where she got eight out of every ten votes cast, but that was not the real key to her victory. Mannis and Kincannon both ran well across the city, rarely was any given precinct an absolute blow out like the aforementioned Central United Methodist Church. Kicannon won, or rather Mannis lost, because she took away his edge in traditionally Republican areas.
Kincannon won Bearden High school, the precinct with the most votes, by six points. She won Sequoyah Hills by four, and the less significant Bearden Elementary by twenty-two. Mannis notched victories at West Hills and Bearden Middle, but they were modest. He did succeed in taking the Republican crown jewel, Deane Hill, by a massive margin, but it was not enough.
Mannis barely outpaced right wing Republicans Rep. Tim Burchett and Lt. Governor Randy McNally at Inskip Elementary, another important area for a GOP mayoral hopeful, and Mannis’s home turf.
Under a Trump presidency, affluent suburbs are turning blue across the nation. Knoxville is not immune. The path to victory for a republican citywide grows narrower by the day. Additionally, “credit card hippies” are setting up shop in rapidly gentrifying areas like South Knoxville and my ancestral home of Happy Holler. They reliably vote for more liberal candidates.
Increasingly, winning campaigns are not about coming to the middle and moderating in order to appeal to a wider audience or build a broader base of support. We live in a polarized America. Good campaigns aim to identify and turn out built in supporters, particularly in local races with low turnout. For Mannis this was the host of republican voters in the city, many of whom for one reason or another stayed home. Kincannon understood this. She ran an aggressive, underfunded grassroots campaign, and brought her people to the dance.
There is no doubt, with consecutive democrat mayors and a couple of self avowed socialists on council in Amelia Parker and Seema Singh (who by the way might just be the kindest lady in politics, although we disagree on most everything), Knoxville is changing. However, I refuse to believe that the average Knoxville citizen in Bearden or Fountain City or even South Knoxville is more ideologically in line with Indya Kincannon than Eddie Mannis. The key going forward for Republicans will be finding a way to get that great silent majority off of the couch and into the voting booth.