Unlike many elections for public office, the runoff between Derek Norton and Ryan Campbell for the title of Smyrna mayor was not about race, nor politics, commentators say.
There wasn’t even any noticeable mudslinging.
Smyrna’s voting residents, of which there are about 36,500, simply had two hard-working candidates who each ran an effective, positive campaign, according to local political analysts.
In the end, this was reflected in the Dec. 3 runoff results, with votes split almost right down the middle.
Norton, a 42-year-old lobbyist who has been a Smyrna City Council member for the last four years, won the mayoralty by 159 ballots, or around 2% of the total 7,369 votes cast in the race.
Campbell, a 26-year-old financial planner and small business owner, managed to take 3,605 votes in the runoff, amounting to around 49% of the vote.
“Maybe some people thought it would be one way or the other but we always expected it to be a close election,” Mark Rountree, who worked on Norton’s campaign, told the MDJ on Friday.
Rountree, president of Alpharetta-based political consulting firm Landmark Communications, said Campbell deserved credit for working hard on his campaign, especially as a young man who had never before run for public office.
“Ryan is a good candidate, he worked hard, he put out videos, he did mail drops, he was going door to door,” Rountree said. “I think his age was something for him to overcome in the campaign but I think he handled it in a professional way and people were accepting of that. There’s advantages and disadvantages to being a young candidate, and the guy worked hard.”
Campbell, who has lived 18 years in Smyrna, is black. Norton, who grew up in Marietta, is white.
That skin-deep difference, which can and sometimes does polarize voters, didn’t seem to play much of a part in the Smyrna mayoral race.
“Neither candidate was engaging in any of that,” Rountree said. “I tend to think that people were voting on other things.”
Of the Smyrna voters the MDJ spoke to, some said they liked the fact Campbell is black because they want to see more diverse representation for the city, but they also said that wasn’t the only reason, or the main reason, they supported him.
So did the race, which is nonpartisan, become political instead?
Campbell had the backing of the Cobb Democratic Party, according to campaign materials, and Norton was supported by the Cobb Republican Party, one of its leaders confirmed to the MDJ.
Despite this, Rountree said Democrats and Republicans alike were at Norton’s victory party on the night of the runoff, and his campaign was not geared toward any political orientation.
“He and Ryan personally went to houses regardless of political party or race or gender, they were going to everyone,” Rountree said. “Neither really engaged in a lot of negativity. I never saw any advertising coming out against the other side.”
Norton had the advantage of being endorsed by retiring Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon, who has amassed wide support during his 34 years in the role, as well as the endorsement of Steve Rasin, who came in third in the initial five-person Nov. 5 vote for Smyrna mayor.
Norton also had a visible public presence as a City Council member, and this likely helped him win, Rountree said.
“I think that was quite valuable,” he said.
But perhaps not as valuable as it might have been.
Cobb political analyst, author and university professor Kerwin Swint says elections tend to be less personal in rapidly growing communities like Smyrna where an influx of new residents means long-held loyalties are less impactful.
“Sometimes in a fast-changing area of high growth some of those advantages for people who are well known in the community can melt away, as new people move in who don’t know anyone,” Swint said Friday.
Worth noting is the fact that this year’s race to be Smyrna mayor did not include an incumbent candidate for the first time in decades.
Financially speaking, the runoff race was about as close as the two candidates’ ages.
Campaign contribution and expense reports show Norton went into Election Day with more money than any of his rivals.
By the start of November, he had received around $110,000 in contributions and spent around $84,000 on his campaign, leaving him with just shy of $26,000 on hand with a month of campaigning left before the December special election.
Campbell took out a $20,000 personal loan to boost his campaign account. By the start of November he had received around $22,000 in contributions and had spent almost $40,000 on his campaign, leaving him with around $4,000 on hand a month out from the special election.
Norton, who will be sworn in as mayor at the Jan. 6 Smyrna City Council meeting, told the MDJ he is humbled and honored to be elected and to have the opportunity to lead the city for the next four years.
“I’m so excited,” Norton said. “Smyrna’s the best place to live anywhere.”
Campbell was gracious in his defeat and urged Smyrna residents to unite as one.
“I was passionate about advocating about a broader vision for Smyrna and I think we were able to accomplish that,” Campbell said. “Being a dynamic, inclusive, forward-thinking city, I think that’s what our ‘one Smyrna’ message was all about, and I think it’s critical that people were able to see it and be touched by it.”