Wamp edges out Smedley to win Republican nomination for Hamilton County mayor

Chattanooga entrepreneur Weston Wamp on Tuesday narrowly won the Republican nomination for Hamilton County mayor, according to final unofficial vote totals released by the Hamilton County Elections Commission.

In one of the closest countywide primary elections ever in Hamilton County, Wamp gathered just over 35% of the vote to defeat Hamilton County Commission Chairwoman Sabrena Smedley and Chattanooga businessman Matt Hullander, the son of Hamilton County Trustee Bill Hullander.

Wamp, the 35-year-old son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Chattanooga, would be the youngest mayor in Hamilton County since the job was created nearly a half-century ago if he defeats an even younger Democratic rival, 25-year-old Matt Adams, in the Aug. 4 general election.

(READ MORE: Weston Wamp announces run for Hamilton County mayor)

Wamp, who campaigned at polls in Lookout Valley, Signal Mountain and Stuart Heights through the day Tuesday, said he felt a momentum of support as he talked with voters in recent days. He spent election night at his Lookout Valley home, but said he is ready to begin the next phase of his campaign.

"We won this on election day and were able to overcome the deficit we had from early voting," Wamp said in a telephone interview Tuesday night. "I feel like we put public education on the ballot in a real way like it has never been before in a county race, and I think that resonated with all kinds of people. I'm incredibly grateful and ready to go to work on winning in the general election campaign."

Wamp, whose sister Coty Wamp also won the GOP nomination for Hamilton County District Attorney on Tuesday, portrayed himself as an outsider in county government who will emphasize the importance of vocational education if elected.

Wamp is a business and political consultant who founded the Millennial Debt Foundation, which works to cut deficit spending. He also serves on the Tennessee Board of Regents. He previously ran unsuccessfully in the GOP contest in 2012 and 2014 against U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga. Fleischmann backed rival Hullander in the county mayoral campaign.

Smedley, a Chattanooga Realtor and owner of a real estate agency and two Pure Barre fitness franchises, came in second place only a few hundred votes behind Wamp. During an election night party at the Walden Club with her supporters, Smedley hugged and thanked her supporters after calling and congratulating Wamp on his victory. She said she also called Hullander to thank him for running a positive campaign.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County Commission chair Sabrena Smedley announces 2022 mayoral run).

"God will show me the next chapter of my life," Smedley told her supporters Tuesday. "I will continue to serve District 7 and remain as chairman until September, and then I'm looking forward to spending more time with my grandchildren."

Smedley said her newest grandchild was born on Monday.

Hullander, a 48-year-old businessman who sold his Hullco window replacement and remodeling business last year, was making his first bid for elected office in his mayoral run. But his father Bill Hullander, a former county commissioner, won another term as Hamilton county Trustee Tuesday in an uncontested GOP primary contest.

(READ MORE: Matt Hullander enters 2022 Hamilton County mayoral race)

"The voters spoke tonight and I am grateful for the opportunity the past few months have provided," Hullander said in an emailed statement. "We stayed true to our promise of staying positive. We weren't deterred by the attack ads, lies or skewed polling in the final days of this campaign. I'm grateful for the many volunteers who shared this campaign with me. I'll never forget all you've done. One thing I've learned is that truth and integrity go hand in hand. Both of those are intact for me and I'll sleep well tonight knowing the future is in far bigger hands than mine."

The race was the most hotly contested and expensive campaign for the job since the Hamilton County mayor's office was created more than a half-century ago, Collectively, the three candidates spent more than $1.2 million in their primary races, and they still must win the general election on Aug. 4.

According to financial filings submitted to the Hamilton County Election Commission through April 26, Hullander had raised $537,227, Smedley $436,005 and Wamp $361,446.

Voter turnout was more than double the previous Hamilton County primary election in 2018 when only 20,503 ballots were cast, or 10.6% of the registered voters at that time. But four years ago, Coppinger was unopposed in the GOP primary for county mayor.

Unlike last year's race for mayor of the city of Chattanooga, no runoff is required, even though none of the three Republican candidates got a majority of the primary votes in the GOP contest. There is no majority requirement for the primary, but Wamp will still have to win the most votes in the county general election on Aug. 4 when he will face Democrat Adams, a contracted paralegal who moved to Chattanooga last year after leaving active duty in the U.S. Army, and two independent candidates - David Tulis and Richard Ford.

Political campaign surveys and voter turnout suggests the GOP candidate will have the upper hand, with most Hamilton County voters identifying as Republicans. In the early voting in Hamilton County, 81% of the ballots cast were in the Republican primary.

Following the election of Democrat Dalton Roberts, the last two county mayors - Claude Ramsey and Jim Coppinger - have been Republicans. Ramsey, who was first elected as county executive (later the title was changed to mayor) in 1994 and Coppinger, who was first elected county mayor in 2012, were both previous county commissioners like Smedley.

The new county mayor will replace Coppinger, who has served in that role since he was appointed mayor in 2011. The new mayor will take office on Sept. 1.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter @dflessner1.