After all the ballots were counted, challenger Steve Lawson edged out incumbent Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson by a margin of 1,175 votes in Tuesday’s election.
After all the ballots were counted, challenger Steve Lawson edged out incumbent Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson by a margin of 1,175 votes in Tuesday’s county primary election.
According to the Bradley County Election Commission’s website, 15,552 residents voted during the Bradley County Primary Election. In all, 9,677 voters cast either early or absentee ballots and 5,875 voted on Election Day. Lawson garnered 8,179 votes to Watson’s 7,004.
Tuesday's vote determined Bradley County's next sheriff because no Democratic candidates have qualified for the August General election in the sheriff's race. Lawson will be sworn in to office Sept. 1.
In the interim, Watson’s term will continue for the next four months. During that time, he said he plans to continue serving the people of Bradley County.
Lawson hosted his campaign celebration at the Museum Center at Five Points and his supporters marched down Inman Street to the Courthouse Plaza shortly after Watson had called to concede the election.
“This is the people who worked for me in this campaign,” Lawson said. “They say everything about what kind of race this was. These people were out every day. You see them waving, knocking on doors, making phone calls, doing this, doing that. I owe it to them.
“We worked hard. I worked hard. They worked hard and I appreciate it,” Lawson said. “We have our commitment to serve the people of Bradley County. I’ll never forget that.
“As you well know, many a times I have tried, and I’m humbled to be given the opportunity to serve the people of Bradley County,” he said. “I can assure you one thing, and I campaigned on this, I won’t ever embarrass you or let you down. I’ll do the best job I can do and I’ll serve the people of this county and feel good about it.”
Lawson also recalled his father, Lamar, who he said was “the best sheriff I’ve ever seen.”
He added that he feels the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office needs to stop losing officers because of low pay.
“We need to use common sense and sit down, lay politics aside, and say here is how we have to get better,” Lawson said.
Also, he suggested during his transitional conversation with Watson, the outgoing sheriff “may have some input” on the needs of the BCSO.
This morning, Lawson said he is “blessed and humbled that people are giving me an opportunity to serve them.” He added he is “going to take a long, hard look at what we need to do” and he wants to put together a transition team from people throughout the community to help him as he prepares to take office in September.
Lawson said he plans to surround himself with the best people he can find and noted that sometimes in sheriff’s elections the employees get put “in bad situations.”
“Everybody at the sheriff’s office has a job,” Lawson said, adding that he has heard comments throughout the community “that this one’s gone or that one’s gone … the only thing I want to do is place people to be the most effective for the tax dollars of the people of Bradley County.
“We’ll slow down and I’ll try to make the right decisions putting together the administration,” he said.
In addition, Lawson plans to monitor the budget process leading up to taking office. However, first he’s going to unplug from campaign mode for a bit.
“I’m going to breathe for a couple of days to be honest,” Lawson said.
Watson hosted his campaign supporters at the Cleveland Country Club where guests chatted and listened to music. Shortly after 8 p.m., Bradley County Sheriff’s Office Communications Director James E. Bradford Jr. announced the early vote totals to the audience, with Watson trailing Lawson by about 900 votes. The resulting mood was quiet and turned somber when Watson arrived close to 9 p.m. to greet his supporters.
“We still believe in God, don’t we?” Watson said as he asked his family to gather around him and thanked his campaign volunteers and BCSO employees.
Watson said he is proud of what they have accomplished at the BCSO and he hopes their good work continues. He also asked those in attendance to keep Bradley County “in your prayers.”
“We cannot give up,” Watson said, adding “some great races have been won tonight.”
After his speech, Watson moved through the crowd, shaking hands and returning hugs. When asked by media representatives, Watson said several components factored into his campaign loss, including articles published by a Chattanooga newspaper, and negative social media aimed at him.
“I’m still the sheriff for four more months,” Watson said, adding he plans “to do the best job I can” during his remaining time in office.
Watson also confirmed he called Lawson to concede the election.
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