Metro Councilman John Cooper dealt a surprising blow to Mayor David Briley's bid for a full term, seizing a 10-point lead in the first round of voting.
Cooper won 35% of the vote with all precincts reporting. Briley received about 25% of the vote, setting up a head-to-head runoff between the two candidates.
Cooper credited an assertive campaign that knocked on 50,000 doors for the victory.
"This has been a campaign for everyone — to create a city for everyone," Cooper told supporters. "Tonight is just the beginning."
No sitting mayor has ever lost a bid for reelection since Metro formed in 1962. But the results suggest Cooper will have a strong advantage over Briley, who took office in the wake of Mayor Megan Barry's resignation last spring and won a special election to fill the remainder of her term in the summer.
Briley indicated he plans to continue pushing to remain in office.
"I look forward to having a really serious conversation with the folks of Nashville over the next six weeks," Briley told supporters.
Early voting in the runoff will begin Aug. 23, with Election Day on Sept. 12.
Former Vanderbilt professor Carol Swain finished close behind Briley with 22% of the vote. State Rep. John Ray Clemmons finished fourth at 16%. Clemmons was the first candidate to concede:
"While we worked tirelessly for a different outcome tonight, I remain inspired by the people who call Nashville home," he said. "The residents of our many, diverse neighborhoods are Nashville's greatest strength, and they are ready for real, progressive leadership focused on improving their family's quality of life and protecting the character of our city."
Both Swain and Clemmons lagged far behind the frontrunners financially. Briley secured by far the most money from donors, raising more than $1 million. But Cooper loaned his campaign more than $1 million himself and spent more than twice as much as the money as the mayor's campaign, especially as the race entered the homestretch.
Swain lamented the edge that money gave her competitors.
"You know, one of the things that I can say that has disappointed is just the role of money in elections," she said. "Just how someone like Councilman Cooper can put in over $1 million and pretty much, you know, buy name recognition. And so, that is a huge concern."
Focus on finances
Cooper's run to the front of the pack began late — he initially announced he didn't plan to run for mayor — and his campaign leaned heavily on his experience in finance and real estate development. He cast himself as a numbers guy who will shore up the city's finances.
That message resonated with voters such as Hermitage resident Barbara Michanowicz.
"The first time I heard him speak he said he’s got to change things and get the finances set up here for the taxpayers."
Briley, meanwhile, had the advantage of incumbency. He pointed to his track record in his first year in office and the city's continued growth, promising a steady course.
“I think he’s an honest, sincere, compassionate person who always tries and wants to do what is best for everyone in the community," said Forrest Hills resident Roger Schecter.
WPLN reporters Samantha Max, Blake Farmer, Meribah Knight and Sergio Martínez-Beltrán contributed to this report.