TN: Native Son Out, But Turnout Could Still Break Record
By Krissah Williams
Tennessee has become one of the most hotly contested primaries in the Republican race. But among Democrats, Hillary Clinton leads Barack Obama by more than 20 points.
The state was Fred Thompson country until the native son turned politician and actor dropped out last month. Before that, other candidates mostly stayed away. On the eve of the primary, Thompson's late departure has left Republicans divided and with an unknown number of early ballots already cast for him, Thompson could still be a factor.
All the candidates swept through Tennessee last weekend vying for support. John McCain, who has landed some of Thompson's backers, stumped at a school in Nashville. Mike Huckabee spoke at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis Sunday. Mitt Romney ate breakfast at Pancake Pantry in Nashville this morning.
According to a Southern Political Report poll taken after Thompson and Rudy Giuliani abandoned their campaigns, McCain leads the pack with 33 percent of the vote, followed by Huckabee with 25 percent, Romney with 18 percent and Ron Paul drawing 9 percent.
On the Democratic side, the poll showed Hillary Clinton leading Barack Obama 59 percent to 36 percent in the state where her husband and Carthage-raised Al Gore handily won elections in 1992 and 1996. Earlier this year, Obama planned to pull resources from Tennessee and forgo running campaign ads, effectively ceding it to Clinton.
"With the $32 million haul in January, he just went back up," Wade Munday, communications director for the Tennessee Democratic Party, wrote in an e-mail.
Tennessee is one of the states with a sizable African-American population, and black voters are expected to comprise about a quarter of the Democratic primary electorate. In recent weeks, black voters across the country have been favorable to Obama. Already political endorsements have broken along racial lines with former governor Ned McWherter and much of the state's Democratic establishment backing Clinton. Obama has the support of all but one of the state's black state legislators.
Still singed by Harold Ford Jr.'s loss in his 2006 senate bid amid controversial campaign ads paid for by the Republican National Committee that featured a blonde white woman saying "Harold, Call me," Democrats want to pick a winner.
Bob Tuke, a former state Democratic Party chairman who is backing Obama, told Time magazine that Clinton probably has the advantage because some voters are "reticent about backing a black."
Turnout is expected to be high, possibly nearing a record set in 1988 when Gore first ran for the Democratic nomination and more than 800,000 people voted, said State Election coordinator Brook Thompson. More than 320,000 Tennesseans cast early ballots, nearly triple early voting in 2004.
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