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'I was really speechless' - House District 26 opponents discuss unusual primary

We talked to opponents in House District 26 about the unusual race. (Image: WTVC)

It was a local election win that surprised even the candidate, after she says she was forced to move out of the district.

Jean-Marie Lawrence won the Democratic primary last week for House District 26 in Hamilton County.

She is up against Republican Robin Smith.

We spoke with both candidates about this unusual race.

Lawrence posted on Facebook in June that she was dropping out of the race because she says she had to move out of the district unexpectedly.

"Never in a million years did I think I would have to leave the district," Lawrence said.

She was told her apartment complex was being renovated into a hotel, and that residents had to be out by August.

She has muscular dystrophy, and had to move a few blocks outside the district in order to find affordable housing that fit her needs.

"I was really trying to find housing in the district," Lawrence said. "I didn't want to leave, I tried everything I could."

This happened after the 45-day deadline, so her name still appeared on the primary ballot.

She ended up taking about 54 percent of the democratic votes.

"I was really speechless," Lawrence said. "It really came as a shock for me because I really didn't do a lot of campaigning."

Now, she's desperately trying to find housing that can accommodate her needs. She's hopeful to find a place to rent by November.

"I'm not naive, there's a lot of work ahead, but I'm confident I can get it done."

She's campaigning again, on top of her full-time job at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga.

"Winning the primaries, I know that this is where I'm supposed to be and what I'm meant to be doing."

The Hamilton County Election Commission says as long as Jean Marie moves back into District 26 by the time she's sworn in, she can still hold office if she wins.

Her top priorities include advocating for people with disabilities, working to expand medicaid, and raising the minimum wage.

"I know what it's like to wonder which bills you're going to pay."

She describes herself as a Democratic socialist, saying the economy and society should work together to benefit everyone, not just a select few.

"I really feel like I'm poised to be able to help make those positive changes happen."

Meanwhile, Democrats are trying to get Lawrence's opponent Robin Smith taken out of the race. We talked to Smith about this Friday.

"I do find it terribly ironic that the very Democrats who are trying to remove the Republican nominee - not wanting to have a nominee - doesn't have one that currently lives in the district," Smith said.

Democrats say she was added after the deadline, under criteria that does not fit the rules. Smith was added after incumbent Republican Gerald McCormick dropped out because he moved to Nashville for a job.

"They're trying to get me kicked off because they're claiming he did not meet one of those four criteria, and that's what's being settled," Smith said. "I have every confidence that the system is going to work."

The court case for that is August 13.

In the meantime, Smith says she will continue campaigning and is confident her name will remain on the November ballot.

"This is about the voters," Smith said. "I'm doing everything to honor the votes that have already been cast."

She says her top priorities include continuing the work Governor Haslam has accomplished with education and job creation.

As a former nurse, Smith says one of the biggest reasons she decided to run is to improve healthcare options.

Smith says we need safety net programs, but too many people who are able to work are on the programs. She says she wants the system to push people to their maximum opportunities.

"The more educated you are in this knowledge-based economy, and the more skills that you have, the more value you bring to your employer."

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