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VOL. 123 | NO. 216 | Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Tennessee Voters Must Be in Line By Closing Time

By BILL POOVEY | Associated Press Writer

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Polls in Tennessee opened Tuesday to bright, sunny skies and long lines of voters waiting to cast ballots in what election officials expect to be a record turnout.

The advice to voters was this: Get in line before the polls close or you won't get in the door.

"Don't wait to the last minute," state election coordinator Brook Thompson said Monday. "If you get there a few minutes too late there is nothing we can do, if not in line by then."

Polls close at 8 p.m. EST and 7 p.m. CST.

Voting at a public library in Memphis, Anjanette Broadway, 39, said she voted for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

"The biggest thing on my mind is health care. It should be available to all people," Broadway said. "And the economy is just terrible right now."

In Nashville, Darrell Ozment said he votes in every election and this time chose John McCain and every other Republican on the ballot.

"I think it's foreign policy more than anything else. He's proven, Obama has no foreign experience," Ozment said, citing the economy and foreign policy as the issues most important to him.

About 100 people lined up at Farragut High School in Knoxville when the polls opened.

In Memphis, which led the state in new voter registration, city police were considering Election Day similar to New Year's Eve and planned to put 100 extra officers on the streets, according to WMC-TV.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain is expected to win Tennessee's 11 electoral votes.

Vanderbilt University political analyst John Geer said a margin of fewer than 10 percentage points for McCain over Democrat Barack Obama in Tennessee would be a "sign of how massive the defeat is going to be" for McCain nationally. He based that partly on John Kerry's 14-percentage-point loss to President Bush in 2004. He expected McCain would win by 8 to 10 percentage points.

Thompson estimated Monday that about 2.9 million votes will be cast in Tennessee, easily exceeding the record 2.45 million votes in 2004. Nearly 4 million voters are registered in Tennessee this year. That includes more than 360,000 — or 9 percent — who since Jan. 1 have registered for the first time.

Thompson said Monday he had no reports of "any systemic problems," and that none were expected Tuesday.

Heather Larsen-Price, a University of Memphis political analyst, said she will be watching to see "whether these newly registered voters come out to vote."

"People registered because they thought their vote would count," Larsen-Price said Monday.

Bad weather likely won't be an excuse for not voting. Sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s and 70s are expected, with higher elevations probably a bit cooler in the upper 50s, said Gregg Cole, a National Weather Service spokesman at Morristown.

On Election Day eve, McCain predicted victory at a rally of about 5,000 supporters in Blountville in GOP-friendly northeastern Tennessee.

"I am not afraid to fight," McCain told them. "We are going to win this election."

Sen. Lamar Alexander, on a cross-state re-election plane tour of his own, spoke on McCain's behalf at the airport rally at Tri-Cities Aviation. So did Sen. Bob Corker and former Sen. Fred Thompson, all Republicans.

Bush made a campaign stop to the same location in 2000, the year Tennessee voted for him over Democratic native son Al Gore.

It was McCain's first visit to red-state Tennessee since he debated Obama in Nashville on Oct. 7. Tennessee Republicans in February voted for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in the GOP primary, and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton won the state's Democratic primary.

State Republican Chairwoman Robin Smith told The Jackson Sun she disagrees with any suggestion that Obama is gaining traction in Tennessee, especially in rural areas.

In the U.S. Senate race, incumbent Alexander has led Democratic challenger Bob Tuke in polls, name recognition and fundraising. At a press conference in Nashville, Alexander said he has had an easier campaign than some of his Republican colleagues in neighboring Kentucky, North Carolina and Georgia.

"I'm living in a neighborhood that's pretty tough this year for Republican candidates," Alexander said. "But I think the difference is I have strong support from Democratic and independent Tennesseans."

McCain's visit surprised state Republicans. The General Assembly's top two Republicans, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville and House Minority Leader Jason Mumpower of Bristol, attended after breaking away from campaigning in support of legislative candidates amid a tight battle for control of the state Senate.

Republicans and Democrats each hold 16 seats, and the 33rd belongs to an independent up for re-election this year. Both parties are seeking to pick up at least one seat to claim a majority.

Two of the fiercest battles are for open seats: Senate District 26 in West Tennessee, where former longtime Democratic Senate Speaker John Wilder of Mason is retiring, and District 12 on the Cumberland Plateau, where Sen. Tommy Kilby, D-Wartburg, didn't seek re-election.

Another key race is northeastern Tennessee's Senate District 4. Republican Church Hill attorney Mike Faulk is trying to oust Sen. Mike Williams, who left the GOP last year to become an independent and sometimes sides with Democrats on key votes.

Democrats, including Gov. Phil Bredesen, have been stumping hard in those areas to try to maintain those seats.

Democrats have a 53-46 majority in the House, where all 99 seats are up for election.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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