On Tuesday, District Attorney General Tony Clark defeated Elizabethton attorney and former state Rep. Jerome Cochran in the Republican primary election.
Clark collected 13,286 votes from voters in Carter, Unicoi, and Washington counties, while Cochran finished with 11,046. Although Johnson County is also included in the First Judicial District, it did participate in a primary election.
Once he received word of his victory, Clark, who spent the evening dining with friends and co-workers at Friends Restaurant in Unicoi, said he was “thrilled” at the show of support he received.
“I’m very happy with all the results,” Clark said. “It has been a long, hard-fought battle, and I certainly appreciate everyone that came out and supported me.”
Though Cochran maintained a lead in his native Carter County – he finished with 5,080 votes to Clark’s 3,979 – Clark received the bulk of his support in Unicoi and Washington counties. In Unicoi, Clark received 2,532 of 3,911 total votes, while, in Washington County, he earned 6,775 votes to Cochran’s 4,587.
For Clark, the Unicoi County numbers were a special victory. Although Unicoi is his native county, Clark said he had concerns voters would remember his thrice-failed attempt to convict former Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris.
“It was not popular, and a lot of people are still bitter over it,” Clark said. “In doing my job, many times, you don’t make people happy. But I’m from here, and I appreciate the support I had.”
Clark added he was also appreciative of support he received from members of his staff. Because the district attorney’s office could not close for the election, Clark said some of his employees took vacation days to help canvas the voting precincts.
“We were out at 6:30 and 7 this morning covering precincts and handing out signs,” Clark said. “I appreciate everybody who made this possible.”
In the election’s early stages, Clark’s victory was in question. After the polls closed at 8, Cochran jumped out to an early lead as Carter County reported 2,106 early votes cast his way, while 1,830 cast their vote for Clark. As the evening wore on, however, Clark gained momentum in Unicoi County – with 1,452 for Clark and 803 for Cochran – and then, in Washington County, Clark garnered 3,288 early and absentee votes, while Cochran received 2,142.
More than an hour after polls closed and First District precinct numbers started reporting, Clark led Cochran by more than 1,000 votes. Less than 10 minutes later, Clark’s lead swelled to more than 2,000 votes, which is where that lead would ultimately remain.
As that lead maintained into the evening, Cochran commended Clark on his victory.
“I want to congratulate Mr. Clark on a tremendous victory,” Cochran said. “He ran a great campaign, and he should be commended for it.”
Although the two candidates traded jabs on social media in the days leading up to the election, Clark and Cochran both said they bore the other no ill will.
“Whatever happened between us is water under the bridge,” Clark said. “I wish the best of luck to Mr. Cochran in whatever he pursues next. I’m moving on to August.”
While Clark notched a victory on Tuesday, he will be tested again during the general election on Aug. 7, where he will face off with Independent candidate Dan Smith. Despite his victory in the primary, Clark said he expected a challenge in the general election.
“I do not underestimate anyone,” Clark said. “He’s coming out with new ideas and concepts for the office. It will be a tough race.”
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