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Tim Kelly, Kim White and Wade Hinton lead in a poll of Chattanoogans for the March mayoral election.

A poll of Chattanoogans this week indicated businessman Tim Kelly is leading among those who have made a choice in the largely undecided pool of potential voters in the March mayoral election and emphasized the importance of housing and economic issues.

The poll was conducted this week by Spry Strategies, a Knoxville-based polling outfit hired by local conservative group Hamilton Flourishing. It showed Kelly, best known as an auto dealer, leading the 15 remaining candidates with 21.1% of respondents saying they would vote for him if the election was held at the time of the poll.

"Since making his announcement to run for office over seven months ago, Tim Kelly has been doing the hard work across Chattanooga to meet voters, hear concerns and build grassroots momentum," campaign manager Rachel Hanson wrote in an emailed statement. "No matter what polls say, we will campaign like we are a few points behind and work as hard as possible all over the city to earn every vote possible. Listening to people instead of polls is what we will continue to do."

Former River City Co. President Kim White was the second most popular with 15.3% and Former City Attorney Wade Hinton came in third with 8.9%.

"I am encouraged by the strength and momentum of our disciplined campaign strategy," White said in a statement. "Our financial and community support have been tremendous and continue to build throughout the city as we share with more and more neighbors about how we will grow business, support our first responders, pave our streets and more. We are excited and optimistic as we look to the next several weeks."

Both White and a spokesperson for Hinton were optimistic and hinted at strong financial support ahead of the Jan. 31 reporting deadline.

"This is a wide open, three-way race and Wade has the resources to win. These results are proof that we have the momentum heading into our first fundraising deadline. The more that voters get to know about Wade, from growing up on the Westside to his experience in business and as city attorney under Mayor [Andy] Berke, the more they embrace his vision for economic opportunity," said Spencer Bowers, a spokesman for Hinton. "Our supporters are on the ground with Wade every day, and they are talking to the community about how to make Chattanooga a city we can all believe in. Wade's plans will create a strong economy in a city that will be safer, more equitable and inclusive."

Methodology

The TN Hamilton Flourishing Chattanooga Mayoral Benchmark Survey was conducted by Spry Strategies using a hybrid method survey design of live caller to landlines, automated and online mobile interviews from 400 likely voters from Jan. 11 to 14. The survey’s sample included 23,600 registered voters who voted in at least 1 of the last 4 city mayoral elections in 2005, 2009, 2013 & 2017, 1,200 newly registered city voters and a random sample of 1,800 2020 presidential election voters registered in the city. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percentage points. Results are weighted based on city mayoral turnout averages from 2013 & 2017. Some percentages in crosstab reports for this poll may not add to 100% due to rounding.

 

Local entrepreneur Monty Bruell was next with 5.6%, followed by Councilman Russell Gilbert with 4.4%, former NAACP chapter president Dr. Elenora Woods with 4.2%, and Councilman Erskine Oglesby with 3.3%. The last candidate whose name was listed in the survey, entrepreneur Andrew McLaren, received no support.

Another 1.2% indicated they would support a candidate not listed on the survey.

The poll did not include the other seven candidates by name (Monty Bell, Lon Cartwright, Christopher Dahl, D'Angelo Davis, Chris Long, George Ryan Love and Robert C. Wilson) due to the pollsters' determination to focus on the candidates deemed most viable.

The most common response in the poll was undecided, with 36.1% giving that answer, just shy of a month before early voting for the March 2 election begins.

Asked for their second choice among the same candidates, Kelly (27.3%), White (17.5%) and Hinton (12.7%) stayed in the top three. The remaining candidates shifted, however, with Woods in fourth with "another candidate" accounting for 11.2%, Woods for 9%, Gilbert for 8%, Bruell for 6.2%, Oglesby for 5.7%, and McLaren at 2.4%.

"The top candidates are Tim Kelly and Kim White, both in the ballot test, and the 2nd choice for mayor ballot test. Both candidates have excellent name recognition and favorable to unfavorable ratio are strong with Tim Kelly and Kim White," Spry Strategies President Ryan Burrell said. "I expect Wade Hinton to rise at some point when things heat up. The rest of the field have very little name ID and are going to need to raise some serious campaign funds to contend with Tim Kelly and Kim White."

If no candidate exceeds 50% of the vote on March 2, there will be a runoff election between the two top candidates in April.

The poll also tracked each respondent's overall outlook on the city, showing some room for improvement and concern for housing and economic issues.

"This was a survey that verified what many of us predicted concerning the city mayoral election on March 2, 2021, but had plenty of surprises with voter sentiment on the state of the city, the issues and outlook in the first few weeks of the new year," Burrell wrote.

"The survey reflected strong resolve with Chattanoogans and hope on the horizon in 2021 [with] 68.12% of voters believing the city is on the right track and 30.88% believing Chattanooga is on the wrong track," he said. "We branched off into why they responded 'right track' and 43.5% of voters chose business climate, low taxes and economic development as the reason for their answer; 45.47% of voters who believe Chattanooga is on the wrong track chose a lack of strong local leaders in government."

(READ MORE: How Chattanooga's 2021 mayoral candidates plan to address police reform)

The poll also showed a shift in priority among local voters, highlighting the importance of economic issues, crime and safety and housing over matters of infrastructure and transportation.

Asked the most important issue facing the city, respondents rated affordable housing and economic growth/job development as the top issues, with 20.1 and 20%, respectively. Crime and public safety was close behind with 19.4%, followed by civil unrest and racial justice at 18.1%.

Homelessness was next with 11.1%, followed by another drop off before infrastructure issues like local roads and bridges (5.5%) and alternative methods of transportation (4.4%). Reducing the carbon footprint came in last with just 0.8%

(READ MORE: How 2021 Chattanooga mayoral candidates plan to address affordable housing)

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at staylor@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.

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