UPDATE: This story was updated at 10:08 p.m. to include information about Andrew McLaren announcing his support for Tim Kelly.
With nearly six weeks to go before a runoff election for Chattanooga mayor, the battle between rivals Tim Kelly and Kim White will be to win over the supporters of the other 13 candidates who didn't make it past this week's election.
Why? Because roughly the same pool of voters who came out on Tuesday of this week is likely to return for the April 13 runoff between the top two vote-getters.
The turnout was moderate, according to officials, as it surpassed the two most recent city elections by several percent, but fell short of historically high turnouts in the past.
"Yesterday was not the highest turnout in a city of Chattanooga election. There were higher turnouts back in the late '90s and early 2000s," Hamilton County Elections Administrator Scott Allen said Wednesday.
And Allen said the turnout is likely to be similar in April, when three of this week's races are determined in a runoff election.
"Historically when there has been a mayoral run-off the turnout has held close to what turned out in the first election," Allen said by email.
With somewhere around those 28,000 voters expected in April, candidates who didn't earn nearly half of that Tuesday will now try to broaden their appeal to voters who supported one of the 19 candidates eliminated across the three races.
In the mayoral race, businessman Kelly and former nonprofit leader White, who are separated by less than 1% of the vote, must now look to the more than 40% of the ballots cast in the mayoral race for defeated candidates to secure a victory.
Kelly narrowly beat White in the election by around 300 votes, or about 0.9%, a victory he's not taking lightly.
"Over the next six weeks we need to reach out to every single vote, who showed up to the polls and the ones who might have forgotten and remind them that they've got one more ballot to cast on April 13," Kelly said in a speech to supporters Tuesday. "I'm confident that if we stay organized and stay focused, we will close this thing out with a win."
Fourth-place finisher Monty Bruell, who's now out of the running but amassed 8.5% of the vote, also immediately backed Kelly after the election, likely bringing some of his supporters with him.
"Last night we had 15 people in this race. Today, we have two. And when I looked at the choice between Kim White and Tim Kelly, that choice is very clear to me," Bruell said Wednesday. "People asked me if I needed to take a week to think about this, to take some time to make up my mind. But the future of Chattanooga is too precious, and I didn't need any time at all."
Kelly and Bruell appeared together Wednesday announcing the partnership. The two said they are set to meet next week and will discuss a position for Bruell on Kelly's transition team, but provided no further details.
But even with the overall outcome in Kelly's favor, White is celebrating receiving the most ballots cast on Election Day, by just over 453 votes, a sign that her momentum picked up between early voting and Tuesday.
"I am ready, and I am so excited to be continuing this campaign to be the next mayor of Chattanooga, and I couldn't have done it without you. We've seen amazing momentum. Tonight we won election night," White said in her speech Tuesday. "Momentum has just been building and building."
Kelly had a 730-vote lead in early and mail-in voting. So White focused on the votes cast for her on Election Day on Facebook and in an email to supporters Wednesday.
In addition to Bruell, Andrew McLaren also backed Kelly in a Facebook post late Tuesday. No other candidates have publicly announced their support for either White or Kelly.
Similarly, two races to fill open city council seats will also be decided in the runoff, and could come down to who is able to earn the support of voters who backed losing candidates.
In District 2, Hamilton County Board of Education Member Jenny Hill got 45.4% of the vote to replace retiring City Councilman Jerry Mitchell, and business owner Thomas Lee received 31.4%.
Though Hill led by a little over 500 votes, converting the remaining 900 that went to chemical engineer Tim Gorman would be enough to win the race for either Hill or Lee.
In District 5, Hamilton County Democratic Party Vice Chairman Dennis Clark and entrepreneur Isaiah Hester led the pack with 35% and 31.1% of the vote respectively, besting community activist Cynthia Stanley-Cash, Pastor Alan AJ Holman and church administrator Leanne Jones.
With just about 120 votes separating the two, Clark and Hester must sway supporters of the other three candidates, who received over 1,000 of the votes cast in the general election.
Early voting for the runoff will run from March 24-April 8, and absentee ballot requests will be available starting on March 12. March 15 is the deadline to register to vote in the April runoff.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at email@example.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.
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