Richard Venable hugs his wife, Phyllis, during a reception at Central High School Tuesday evening. Photo by David Grace.
BLOUNTVILLE — There'll be a new mayor in town come September. Well, a new old mayor.
Richard Venable defeated incumbent Mayor Steve Godsey by an astounding margin Tuesday to become the GOP nominee for mayor in August.
No one is running as a Democrat or Independent.
Venable's win over Godsey on Tuesday — by a more than three-to-one margin — essentially catapulted Venable into position as the de facto mayor-to-be.
With all precincts reporting, unofficial election results posted by the Sullivan County Election Commission showed Venable with 11,449 votes (77.59 percent) over Godsey's 3,306 votes (22.41 percent).
The mayor's race clearly was a major draw for voter turnout, based on the number of ballots cast and the number of "undervotes" in other races.
Of 15,218 ballots cast in the GOP primary Tuesday, only 463 did not include a vote for one or the other of the mayoral candidates.
In other races, the undervote ran considerably higher. In the race for the GOP nomination for register of deeds, for example, 1,961 voters didn't vote for either candidate.
After the final precinct numbers were posted, Venable read them aloud to a cheering crowd at a victory party in Blountville.
"I never anticipated something like this," Venable said of the wide margin.
Venable thanked his wife, Phyllis, who he said has "gone way beyond the call of duty" during their 48 years — and 12 campaigns — together, recalling how the two of them talked at length about the decision to throw his hat in the ring to run again for county mayor.
"She knew how much I enjoyed being mayor the first time, and she knew the things we were able to accomplish," Venable said. "I relinquished a job I loved."
Venable, who served as Sullivan County mayor from 2002 to 2006, said he was driven to launch this campaign — which he joked could have been dubbed "Back to the Future" — because he could see a public loss of confidence in county government during the past 18 months.
Venable thanked all his supporters, many of whom he credited with providing the mechanical components of campaigning — like putting up signs — allowing him the time each day to go out and speak with county residents to learn more about their concerns.
Venable also said he wanted to congratulate Godsey for running a good campaign, which never veered toward the mudslinging that often shows up in politics today.
"He ran a positive campaign," Venable said. "And when you see him I hope you will thank him for that. Steve stayed on focus. He ran a campaign based on what he'd done and what he hoped to do. I reminded people of what I thought I had done, and what I hoped to do. When I saw him this afternoon, his last words to me were 'Have a good evening, Richard,' and I said 'You, too, Steve.' That's the way campaigns ought to be."
Voter turnout was up significantly from the 2010 party primaries, the last time the mayor's race was on the ballot.
That year, 9,920 ballots were cast in the GOP primary, and Godsey won the party's nomination to seek what would become his second term with 63.81 percent of the vote — over two challengers.