Election Night & Morning After

Family names matter, especially in politics, and especially around here.

So no one should be surprised this morning that a guy named Cooper and a guy named Briley have wound up in a runoff as the top two vote-getters in Nashville’s race for mayor.

If you’re feeling that all we do in Nashville anymore is hold municipal elections, you can be forgiven. It does seem so. (And I will spare you one more repeat of the tired boilerplate on how we got into this mess. You’re welcome.) Neither CM John Cooper, in spite of his 10-point lead at the end, nor Mayor David Briley polled strongly enough yesterday to win the thing outright, so essentially we will do it again on the night of September 12.

Cooper and Briley come from two distinguished political families. Each is kin to successful political leaders, and at some level the famous family name boosted opportunities for name recognition and positive responses in the voting booth. In Tennessee, this has been true for people named Clement and Gore and McWherter, too.

But a good name only gets you so far.

While local pols will be stirring through the tea leaves of last night’s results for weeks to come, the more urgent business for this Cooper and this Briley begins this morning.

One task, of course, is to reassess their own respective campaign organizations, messages, and themselves, and to re-calculate how they are thinking about the next six weeks in a much less crowded field of candidates. For Briley, in particular, how hot does the ‘fire in the belly’ burn now?

But the heavier burden this morning, for both but especially for Briley, is to find new friends among the many Nashvillians who voted for someone else – either for Carol Swain or for John Ray Clemmons – and also among the even greater number of registered voters who just stayed home.

Cooper’s strong finish last night with a 10,000-vote margin was impressive, and so too has been his enthusiasm. For this next period, he is unlikely to tweak his message much because it has served him well so far. The heavier lift for him too now will be to draw into his column what support he can among the many voters who did not choose a famous name – either his or Briley’s.

Re-aligning for a run-off is more complicated now than it used to be. In 2019 the dynamics are different than back in the middle of the last century when political leaders could hope to “deliver” their primary voters en bloc to a general election candidate.

Today no politician tells anybody how to vote. There’s too much communication at play for that, way more welcome daylight, way more voter independence – and also a sizable quotient of citizen non-engagement

Even organizational endorsements - for example, those of teachers and firefighter and other city employees – are in a different posture this morning. While nice to announce, they just are not moveable groups as in the earlier time. They didn’t count for much yesterday.

And that is not how the new Nashville works. Not anymore.

What starts today is a new race that will test both Cooper and Briley and their teams. The next six weeks will require money, yes, but also shoe-leather, a bounce in the step, solid outreach, and a strong spirit for real engagement.

And, more than the interests of any one candidate, all that is what our city needs now.