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TN: Keep an Eye on Shelby County

By Krissah Williams
With Tennessee voters on pace for record turnout, University of Tennessee political science professor Mike Fitzgerald said the state is energized. In some counties, voters are braving heavy rain to cast their ballots. In Nashville, there were long lines with 200 to 300 people at some polls stations this morning, according to news reports.

Among Democrats, Sen. Hillary Clinton continues to lead Sen. Barack Obama in statewide polls, but Fitzgerald said "the battle is vigorous." Both candidates have been airing campaign ads. Much of the state's Democratic establishment lined up behind Clinton, whose husband has strong ties in the state.

"Tennessee Democrats have long memories," Fitzgerald said. "Obama's surge probably can't be enough to close the gap in the time that he had."

Two congressmen are vigorously backing Obama, with Rep. Jim Cooper telling New York Times columnist David Brooks in today's paper that during a 1993 meeting to discuss their differences on health-care reform Clinton was "ice cold." "It was the coldest reception of my life. I was excoriated," he said.

The tug-of-war between Obama and Clinton could come down to black voters, Fitzgerald said. He will be looking closely at exit polls in heavily African American Shelby County, near Memphis. If Obama makes a strong showing there, it is a sign he could do better than expected in Tennessee, Fitzgerald said.

Among Republicans, Fitzgerald said the early votes that went to former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson, who dropped out of the race last month, could be a big factor. "The question is how would those Thompson voters have gone."

One Tennessee blogger, Tommy Oliver, wrote that as he voted this morning, he overheard a couple of voters say: "Thompson's still on the ballot? I'm voting for him."

By Web Politics Editor  |  February 5, 2008; 3:47 PM ET
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