Only a tiny northwest city stands between Chattanooga reclaiming the top spot it held three years ago in Outside magazine's Best Town Ever contest.
The Scenic City handily defeated its most recent rival, Eau Claire, Wis., in a semifinal round that ended just before midnight Thursday with 30,106 votes to Eau Claire's 25,548.
Now it faces off against Port Angeles, Wash., a waterfront city that closed the semifinals with far fewer votes than the Scenic City -- fewer even than Eau Claire: 22,494.
Numbers matter for sure in this annual nationwide fight for bragging rights.polls here 3237
How to vote
Cast votes for Best Town Ever at outsideonline.com/1972941/best-towns-2015.
The competition for coolness started early this month with 64 cities, 60 of them chosen by Outside's editors. The other four made their way in through a colorful Instagram contest that started with 108 cities. One of them was Port Angeles, nestled between Olympic National Park and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Chattanooga's population, 170,000, eclipses that of Port Angeles, 19,000.
Christy Smith knows Port Angeles well. She spent most of her life there. She moved to Chattanooga, her husband's hometown, a decade ago. It wasn't a tough transition.
"I thought it was beautiful," Smith, 40, said. "It was a very similar feeling (to Port Angeles). The water was right there. The mountains are right here, where you see them every day. People are always outside being active."
Chattanooga has better weather, probably as much rain as her native city. But not it's not as drizzly here, she said.
She's been tapping out votes for Chattanooga and Port Angeles, every round. Now, er, that will be hard to do, but don't hold it against her. "I have to vote for my hometown," she said.
The startup scene has been involved with tweets from venture incubator Lamp Post Group and Launch Tennessee in Nashville, among others. It's gotten steady attention from Chattanooga's RootsRated, an outdoor-adventure media platform that hasn't been shy about plugging where it's based.
University of Tennessee has been nudging people via its Facebook page, and the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau has sent emails nearly every week, most recently with pleas to "vote on all your devices (iPad, laptop, desktop computers, cell phones at home & work, etc.)."
The winner will be named June 5, after a tally of online votes.
Chattanooga beat Roanoke, Va., Raleigh-Durham, N.C., Beaufort, S.C., Boone, N.C. and Eau Claire to make the finals. The competition was created with brackets modeled after the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament.
"I always thought the bracket system would spark some intense competition, but I didn't expect this much buzz honestly," said Rock/Creek's marketing director, Mark McKnight. "We've had a great time throwing these voting parties at local bars, and we've seen a ton of interest from our customers."
Rock/Creek has been strategizing for the final round for more than a year, he said. One of its top sportswear vendors, Horny Toad, was planning a name change to Toad&Co and wanted to sponsor the voting process with Outside as a way to launch the brand in "a big, public way," he said. Indeed, Toad&Co has a link to the contest on its website, and Outside's voting page lets users enter their email address to win a three-night trip and $300 in activewear thanks to the sportswear company.
What makes a "best town"? According to Outside's editorial minds: "places with great access to trails and public lands, thriving restaurants and neighborhoods, and, of course, a good beer scene."
In 2008, Outside ranked Chattanooga as one of the best places to live in the country. In 2011, Chattanooga won the online voting component of the national publication's competition with one third of clicks, 7,434 votes. Outside's editors named the Scenic City "best town" in the October issue that year, after considering several factors in addition to digital votes. Back then, the online contest lasted just three weeks and featured 10 finalist cities from around the United States chosen by the magazine's editors.
After the 2011 win, Chattanooga had to sit out the contest for three years, a rule Outside's editors set "to make room for hidden gems, underdogs, and towns on the rise."
Contact staff writer Mitra Malek at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter @MitraMalek.