NASHVILLE - Former Bradley County Commissioner J. Adam Lowe won a heated contest Thursday in his Tennessee Senate District 1 Republican primary race with state Rep. Mark Hall, unofficial returns show.
Unofficial results from Bradley, McMinn, Meigs and Rhea counties show Lowe, a McMinn County businessman, talk-radio host and adjunct professor, winning over Hall, a businessman. Unofficial results posted on the Tennessee Secretary of State's website show Lowe with 9,647 votes, or 53.02%, to Hall's 8,549 votes, or 46.98%.
Lowe won all four counties.
The nomination battle came after incumbent Sen. Mike Bell, R-Athens, chose not to seek re-election to a fourth four-year term.
"We are grateful for the support and encouraged by those who clearly find family values important," Lowe said in a statement to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "In many ways, I feel like I have prepared to serve well, but first, we have to focus on winning in November."
Lowe will square off with Democrat Patricia Waters of Athens in the staunchly Republican district in the Nov. 8 general election.
The contest was seen as one of the most, if not the most, competitive of a handful of contested Senate GOP primary races on Thursday's ballot in a state dominated by Republicans who enjoy super majorities in both the state Senate and House as well as control of the governor's mansion and county-level offices in most Tennessee counties.
Earlier Thursday at McMinn County's Rogers Creek location, which is where Lowe votes, there was a problem where voters, at least some of them unwittingly, cast ballots only in the local general election and not state and federal primary elections.
One voter, who asked not to be identified, told the Times Free Press by phone that when he discovered the issue, he went to the McMinn County Courthouse, where he was allowed to cast a provisional primary ballot in the Republican primary.
McMinn County Election Administrator TeAnna McKinney said in an afternoon telephone interview that "we did have some issues there today. They have been corrected at this point that I know.
"The ladies were not having the people to mark their own application," McKinney said. "But they voted on our machines, which gives you two chances. You get a review on the screen before you print the ballot. You get to hold the ballot in hand afterwards - all before that ballot is put into a scanner and scanned. So the voter has had two chances to review their ballot and say that their ballot was not correct before they scanned."
She said some voters who came back after realizing the issue were allowed to vote a provisional ballot marked as "state only." McKinney said she had staffers do a count of those who voted only in the general election. There were 56 of those ballots, she said.
Voting in a party primary is not required, so some of the voters who cast only general election ballots may have done so intentionally.
Lowe and Hall once served together on the Bradley County Commission, but there was little camaraderie between them in their race.
In one recent campaign twist, Hall's treasurer, Nicholas Townsend, resigned and announced he was switching his support to Lowe and encouraged others to do likewise.
"I have seen from the inside the attitudes and motives that are truly driving this race for Senate. Due to what I have witnessed first-hand, I resigned from the campaign of Mark Hall and will be endorsing and encouraging my friends and family to support J. Adam Lowe for Tennessee state Senate," Townsend said.
He also questioned Hall's Hamilton County-based team of consultants.
In a statement last week, Hall said Townsend's criticism "feels like dirty politics as usual."
The seat, formerly Senate District 9, was redrawn during this year's legislative redistricting, based on data from the 2020 census. It includes all of McMinn, Meigs and Rhea counties, as well as most of Bradley County with the exception of a small sliver of southeastern Bradley now in Senate District 2.
Hall canceled participation in two scheduled forums in Cleveland and Dayton that included the Senate candidates.
Both Hall and Lowe tout themselves as staunch conservatives. Hall was probably best known for Joker's Law, which makes knowingly killing or harming a police, fire, search-and-rescue dog, service animal or police horse a felony punishable by two to 12 years in prison with fines of up to $5,000.
Hall brought the legislation in response to the shooting of Joker, a Bradley County Sheriff's police dog who was severely wounded in 2021 by shots fired by suspects fleeing from a car dealership at Exit 20 off Interstate 75. Joker has since recovered from his injuries.
Lowe criticized another Hall bill that became law, Bentley's Law. It requires a person convicted of drunk driving in a crash in which the parent of a minor dies be responsible for paying child support until the child turns 18. Hall says officials in 14 other states have reached out, showing interest in passing similar legislation.
"We need to fix Bentley's Law," Lowe said, noting "the only problem is it's real hard to collect when you're in prison for vehicular homicide. So I guess we're going to get it from their commissary while they're in there. The current plan is for them to pay it when they get out. But anyone who's ever worked with convicted felons released into a work environment knows it's going to be near impossible" to collect, Lowe added.
Another hotly contested area race was the state House 24 Republican primary in Bradley County, which Hall gave up to make his Senate bid, where four GOP candidates faced off with Kevin Raper, a Bradley County commissioner and former principal and teacher, winning the race with 2,170 votes, or 38.7% of the total tally.
Others in the contest were Troy Weathers, a former Bradley County Board of Education member, who received 1,924 votes, or 34.41%. Israel David Farless received 783 votes, or 13.96% of the total. Attorney Rex Wagner received 730 votes, or 13.02% of the total.
No Democrat is running for the seat.
This year's ballot featured few actual contests for incumbents.
Here's how other area legislative contests shaped up:
- Senate District 11: State Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, became the Republican nominee without opposition. Watson, who serves as Senate Finance Committee chairman, has no Democratic nor independent opponent in November.
- House District 26: State Rep. Greg Martin, R-Hixson, a former Hamilton County commissioner and Hixson realtor, who had no GOP primary opponent, is the nominee. Martin was appointed earlier this year to the seat after then-Rep. Robin Smith's resignation following her guilty plea to a federal fraud charge involving taxpayer-funded legislative constituent mail.
Democrat Allison Gorman, a writer and editor running in House District 26, won over Tim Roberts, and will now face Martin in the Nov. 8 general election. Gorman received 3,088 votes, or 86.35%, compared to Roberts' 488 votes, representing 13.65%.
- House District 27: Incumbent Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, was unopposed in the GOP primary. She faces independent Michael H. Potter of Soddy-Daisy in November.
- House District 28: Incumbent Democrat Rep. Yusuf Hakeem of Chattanooga had no opponent in the Democratic primary and faces no Republican or independent candidate in the November election.
- House District 29: Incumbent Republican Rep. Greg Vital of Georgetown had no GOP opponent in his primary election, nor does he face any opponent in the general election.
- House District 30: Incumbent Republican Rep. Esther Helton of East Ridge had no primary opponent and faces no opponent in the general election.
- House District 31: Incumbent Republican Rep. Ron Travis of Dayton won the GOP primary without opposition. In November, he faces Democrat David L. Brown in the district, which includes Rhea, Bledsoe, Sequatchie and Van Buren counties.
- House District 39: Incumbent Republican Rep. Iris Rudder of Winchester won her GOP primary without opposition. She faces Democrat Bruce Manuel of Sewanee in the general election.