Democrats and Republicans happy Tennessee is voting on Super Tuesday
By BILL POOVEY
Associated Press Writer
CHATTANOOGA (AP) — When Tennessee lawmakers moved up the state’s presidential primary they hoped the state economy would pocket some campaign spending but mostly wanted voters to have a voice in deciding who wins.
The change to Feb. 5 — putting Tennessee in a lineup of primaries and caucuses with more than 20 other states in what has become Super Tuesday — is accomplishing those goals.
While an extra Election Day costs Tennessee taxpayers about $4 million, the top candidates have been visiting, a former president has made a campaign appearance and the campaigns are buying ads.
In Tennessee, there are 68 of the total 1,681 Democratic convention delegates and 52 of the total 1,023 GOP delegates up for grabs Tuesday in what amounts to nearly a national primary. On the GOP side, 1,191 delegates are needed to win the nomination.
The winning Democratic number is 2,025 delegates.
Presidential primaries around the country have gradually been pushed earlier over the past two decades. In 1980, only one state held a primary or caucus by the end of February.
Tennessee has been shifting forward since the 1980s, when the primary occurred in May. The 2000 primary was on March 14 and the 2004 primary on Feb. 10. Political leaders felt the balloting came too late to make a difference.
This year there are head-to-head races for both parties: U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois on the Democratic side and for the GOP, U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor. Republican Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, also could do well in Tennessee.
Vencent Bell, 42, cast a ballot at an early voting location in Chattanooga last week and said afterward he would not have turned out for the primary if the Democratic race was already decided by voters in other states.
“I feel by coming before the election is decided that my vote could be somewhat valued,” said Bell, a YMCA executive director.
Bell said he voted for Obama but would have no problem supporting Clinton if she is the eventual Democratic nominee.
State Republican Party Chairman Robin Smith said Tennessee is ideally situated on the election calendar.
“Tennessee’s vote counts,” Smith said.
“Whether you are a Republican or Democrat your vote will determine the 2008 nominee.”
Smith said she could not provide any estimate of the economic impact from related GOP spending.
Tennessee Democratic Party spokesman Wade Munday said his party’s candidate ads and related spending probably totals about $500,000.
“Being a Southern state we feel like we have a unique allure” for candidates’ attention, Munday said.
A chief sponsor of the legislation that moved up Tennessee’s primary date, House Majority Leader Gary Odom, D-Nashville, said that when primaries are held “at a time when the decision has already been made you have less of a say.”
“I think we are going to be and could very well be holding our primary on a day when the nominees are determined,” Odom said.
Tennessee’s election chief, Brook Thompson, said the state is spending $4 million to hold a presidential primary separate from primary voting for some county offices May 6 and state offices Aug. 7.
The cost of separate primaries is one reason North Carolina lawmakers opted to keep its presidential primary on May 6.
“Utimately they (North Carolina lawmakers) decided it would be too expensive, one for the president and another for local offices,” said Brent Woodcox, a spokesman for the North Carolina Democratic Party.
Woodcox said holding the presidential primary in May has not kept candidates away and the contest even then could still be undecided, possibly attracting more attention to voters and candidate dollars than an earlier date.
“With the way this election season has been going” there is no way to predict, he said.
Vanderbilt University political analyst John Geer said a May primary is unlikely to play much part in who wins. He said that while “Tennessee is getting some attention” a number of states made the same change to Feb. 5 and it could turn out that a week after Super Tuesday is even better.
“It’s hard to guess these things,” Geer said. “The idea of moving up is generally a good one.”
Thompson declined to comment about any benefit from an earlier primary.
“We are going to hold the election whenever they tell us to,” he said.
Published in The Messenger 2.4.08
Democrats, Republicans, Super Tuesday, Tennessee