District 10 Tennessee Senate hopeful Glenn Scruggs spent Thursday afternoon encouraging voter turnout at the Brainerd Community Center, hoping to ride political momentum through the last 12 days of the election.
Scruggs, an assistant police chief at the Chattanooga Police Department, is the Democratic challenger to Sen. Todd Gardenhire, a Republican who has held the seat since 2012. At an event Thursday, Scruggs and 2021 Chattanooga mayoral candidate Wade Hinton gave out water and information to the dozens of voters in line to vote early.
"Everything's so polarized right now. We're so, both sides, tribalized right now, so there's a push from both sides for folks to get to the polls. And I think that's helping us," Scruggs said between talking to voters. "Whether you love or hate our current president, you are definitely energized by him, whether to come to vote against that guy or come to vote for him. I think driving those numbers is going to help us because as voting numbers increase, so do Democrat votes.
"So I'm really enthused about it."
And there is plenty of enthusiasm among voters, too.
Numbers from the Tennessee secretary of state show voters taking advantage of early and absentee voting in droves in Hamilton County and across the state.
In Tennessee, 453,858 voters cast ballots in person or had their previously sent absentee-by-mail ballots counted in the first two days of in-person voting in federal and state contests last week, according to Secretary of State Tre Hargett.
On just the first day of early voting, 273,325 people cast ballots either in-person or absentee by mail, creating a 91% increase over 2016.
The more than 120,000 mail-in votes almost immediately doubled the total of just over 64,000 in the entire 2016 election, following the loosening of vote-by-mail restrictions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"People are excited," Scruggs said, gesturing to the steady stream of cars leaving the polling place in the middle of a weekday afternoon. "We've been asking people when they show up to vote as a single person in a car, right, don't do that. Bring your mom, your aunt and your grandma, put 'em all in the car, and come vote.
"Now, you have a lot of apathetic folks who aren't necessarily engaged in the process, and we're trying to encourage folks to bring friends, family, community members that they haven't seen in a couple days, and vote. That's the only way you're gonna see any change."
Scruggs also said the event gave him another chance to talk to constituents "out of uniform."
"You know people come to me firing off cop questions, and I can answer those in my sleep after three shots of NyQuil, but I love getting to hear what their other concerns are and to talk about the other big issues," he said. "I haven't been a rookie in a long time, but I'm new to [campaigning], so it's nice to hear from folks and get to know them and let them get to know me.
"It's still exciting."
Looking to encourage participation in November and extend some of that increased participation into the March 2021 city elections, former city attorney and mayoral candidate Wade Hinton joined Scruggs.
"I'm here to make sure I'm working with voters to ensure that we're supporting them to go out and early vote and bring some people, whether with water or other kind of support that they need while they stand in these lines," Hinton said. "We want to make sure we're talking to voters to let them know that their ideas, their voice matters. Not only during this election, but it's also going to matter when we're on the ballot in March of 2021."
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.