Special election results closest in recent history, especially in Wilson County

Jacob Smith • Dec 20, 2017 at 4:25 PM

Tuesday’s state Senate special election marked the closest recorded state Senate election since 1998, particularly within Wilson County.

Republican Mark Pody beat out Democrat Mary Alice Carfi by just 308 votes or 2.6 percent. In Wilson County, Pody won by just 80 votes and 1.1 percent. It was the closest recorded state Senate victory dating back to 1998.

It’s particularly surprising given the history Wilson County has with electing Republican senators. In 2014, Republican Mae Beavers ran unopposed in the general election. In 2010, Beavers beat out Democrat George McDonald by 15,485 votes and a difference of 35.36 percent in Wilson County. In 2006, Beavers won against Democrat Bob Rochelle by 8,242 votes and a difference of 23.71 percent. The 2002 state Senate election was only slightly closer as Beavers beat Democrat Sherry Fisher by 5,830 votes and a difference of 19.66 percent. The state Senate election in 1998 was the second closest recorded as Democrat Bob Rochelle beat Republican Phillip Warren by 1,653 votes and a difference of 9.27 percent.

The Tennessee Democratic Party noted the improvement in Tuesday’s election in a statement sent out following the results.

“While we came up just short, we showed a tremendous improvement in a difficult district that Donald Trump won by 50 points, 72 percent to 22 percent.”

While the candidates each won three counties, the counties won by Pody tended to be bigger wins than the counties won by Carfi. Carfi won Clay, DeKalb and Smith counties by an average difference of 3.6 percent. Pody won Cannon, Macon and Wilson counties by an average of 14.3 percent. Pody also won Wilson County, which accounted for 61.7 percent of the total vote.

Another significant statistic from Tuesday’s election was the dramatic drop in the number of voters in District 17. From 2002 until 2010, more than 50,000 voters from District 17 went to the polls each election year to vote; in Tuesday’s election, just 11,672 voters participated. In Wilson County, just more than 9 percent of the county’s 79,013 registered voters cast their ballot.

Warren said this drop in voter participation isn’t very odd considering it was a special election.

“The turnout this year was tremendously low,” said Warren, Wilson County’s administrator of elections. “People don’t know there’s an election, and they don’t care. They just don’t turn out. Presidential elections always bring the most because it’s on national TV. It’s hard to compare a special election to a normal election.”

Wilson County Democrat Party chair Kelly Kline also blamed the low turnout on the local election aspect.

“We have to support those in our local elections,” said Kline. “It’s the local elections that are the basis for the things that affect us from the ground up.”

The official election results will be released Dec. 28, but Warren said it won’t be enough to change anything.

“She would need 308 provisional votes to tie, and we might have 20 or 30 total,” said Warren. “I know Wilson County has 13, and we’re the biggest, so the other counties might have three or four apiece. No, the numbers that were announced are the numbers, give or take a couple.” 

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