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VOL. 127 | NO. 45 | Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Voters Turn Out Today For Primary Races

By Bill Dries

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The first thing parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church noticed before noon Mass, Sunday, March 4, was a line of black SUVs in the parking lot of the Cordova church. A back row at the church was filled with men wearing the same color suits.

Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, signs autographs during a rally in Brunswick, Ga., over the weekend.  

(Photo: AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

And during the Mass offertory, a family the parishioners hadn’t seen before walked from the back of the church to the altar with the gifts of bread and wine.

That’s when some knew Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum was attending Mass.

The appearance came just days before the Tennessee presidential primary, one of 10 “Super Tuesday” races nationwide Tuesday, March 6. Shelby County polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The Shelby County and statewide primary results will be live-tweeted by The Daily News at @tdnpols as the returns come in. The Daily News Online, www.memphisdailynews.com, will feature Web updates of the election returns after the early votes are tabulated and once the combined election and early vote returns are complete.

Santorum’s attendance was a rare foray by a politician to a Memphis Catholic church, and it reflected the different ground rules some churches set for such appearances.

Santorum did not speak during Mass nor was he introduced. Parishioners, however, made a beeline to Santorum after Mass.

And there was a table with voter registration forms.

The former Pennsylvania senator came to St. Francis after an appearance at Bellevue Baptist Church, just north on Germantown Parkway, where he attended a morning worship service. At Bellevue, Santorum sat on the front row and was introduced to the congregation but did not speak there, either. Pastor Steve Gaines led the congregation in a prayer for Santorum.

Four years ago, also just days before the Tennessee presidential primary, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee attended a Sunday evening service at Bellevue Baptist.

Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, spoke at the ordination of two ministers. His remarks were about the ministry and his faith.

Santorum followed Huckabee’s trail four years later, stopping for barbecue at Corky’s in East Memphis before his campaign moved on to Oklahoma.

Santorum hopes the link to Huckabee will continue with the results in Tuesday’s primary.

Huckabee won the state’s Republican presidential primary and carried Shelby County in 2008.

President Barack Obama, who carried Shelby County but lost the state to Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, is running unopposed in the Democratic presidential primary on Tuesday’s ballot.

As for the number of Shelby County residents casting votes in 2008, total turnout – early votes and election day – for the Tennessee presidential primary in Shelby County was 24 percent in 2008. That was more than double the 10 percent turnout in 2004 and in 2000.

Turnout was higher in the Democratic primary four years ago than in the Republican primary.

The highest Shelby County voter turnout ever for the Tennessee presidential primary, which began with the 1972 elections, was 39.2 percent in the primary that year.

Voters have more than the presidential primaries to decide. The ballot includes primary elections for Shelby County district attorney general, General Sessions Court clerk, property assessor and Shelby County Commission district 1 position 3. The winners in the county primaries advance to the Aug. 2 county general election ballot.

More than 21,000 Shelby County voters participated during the early voting period that ended Feb. 28. That is 3.5 percent of the county’s 611,000 voters.

The pull of the five-way Democratic primary for General Sessions Court clerk was felt in a 46 percent early voter turnout in the set of Democratic primaries. The race features Otis Jackson, the clerk elected in 2008 but suspended last year by General Sessions Court judges following his indictment on official misconduct charges; Ed Stanton Jr., the current clerk appointed to the office by the same judges who suspended Jackson; Shelby County Commission chairman Sidney Chism; retired Memphis City Schools principal and coach Marion Brewer; and Karen Woodward of Lakeland.

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