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VOL. 127 | NO. 203 | Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Race to the Finish

Early voting kicks off dash to Election Day

By Bill Dries

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Republican state Sen. Brian Kelsey walked into the storefront at the Carrefour shopping center earlier this month and liked what he saw of the local effort for the Romney-Ryan presidential ticket.

Volunteers make calls to swing states in support of Mitt Romney for president from the phone bank at Shelby County Republican Campaign Headquarters.  

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

“This place looks like a Gap,” Kelsey said of the layout with tables of different kinds of Romney-Ryan branded T-shirts and neatly stacked yard signs.

In the backroom, a team of 10 volunteers worked a phone bank, calling voters in Iowa.

Farther west on Poplar Avenue, the Democratic Party Resource Center isn’t a storefront operation. It’s more of a distribution point for party and campaign workers who then distribute signs and other material at various points around the city.

It has homemade Obama murals on its walls instead of shelves and track lighting, and a set of desks with campaign signs on the walls and in stacks at various points around the room.

Like the Republican center, there is a phone bank effort and like Republicans, local Democrats are calling swing state voters elsewhere.

As early voting opens Wednesday, Oct. 17, in Shelby County at 21 locations, leaders of both parties are focusing their attention on the local races on the ballot.

The early voting locations and hours can be found at the Shelby County Election Commission website, www.shelbyvote.com. Early voting runs through Nov. 1.

It is the presidential general election at the top of the ballot that makes the election cycle consistently the most popular in terms of voter turnout. It is the only election cycle that regularly draws more than half of the voters in the county.

Four years ago, 62 percent of Shelby County’s voters cast ballots in the presidential general election. Democratic nominee and the national winner of the election, Barack Obama, carried Shelby County. Republican nominee John McCain took Tennessee and the state’s 11 electoral votes.

State and local leaders of both political parties all expect Obama to again carry Shelby County and Republican nominee Mitt Romney to win the state and its electoral votes.

“The state is trending red. People are gravitating to the conservative message of our candidates of less government, less taxes, individual responsibility and traditional values,” said Tennessee Republican Party chairman Chris Devaney. “That’s why the state is trending red.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, had a different view of what voters will be saying once the votes are counted on the evening of Nov. 6.

“I think after the election, the whole Republican approach of defeating the president will be finished because the president will not be running for re-election,” Cohen said after the tour. “I think that part of their agenda will end. So, it can only get better.”

Cohen also said Monday, Oct. 15, that he might agree to debate terms with general election challenger and Republican nominee George Flinn.

Cohen said he would agree to a debate if Flinn releases his income tax returns.

Also on the November ballot is the statewide race between incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and Democratic challenger Mark Clayton, who has been disowned by state Democratic Party officials despite winning the August primary.

It was six years ago that Corker won the open Senate seat over Democratic nominee Harold Ford Jr. of Memphis by 50,000 votes in a race that drew national attention. Ford took his home county where he had been the congressman for 10 years.

But Devaney said the Republican majorities in the county outside Memphis contributed to the statewide victory for Corker despite Ford carrying the county.

“I think the Shelby County party apparatus really made a big difference in that U.S. Senate race by getting out the vote right here … where Harold Ford Jr. was from,” he said. “I think the Shelby County party has always been strong.”

Partisans on both sides are worried that the swing state efforts might drive down voter turnout and lead to some surprises in races other than the presidential race.

Devaney and Cohen have each emphasized the need for their bases of voters to stay focused on local races.

Voters in the six suburban towns and cities outside Memphis have six sets of school board races to be decided as the suburbs continue their movement toward establishing municipal school districts.

And Memphis voters have two tax hike proposals to decide on the November ballot – a one-cent local gas tax to fund the Memphis Area Transit Authority and a half-cent countywide sales tax hike for education that also will be decided with votes from citizens in unincorporated Shelby County as well as the city.

PROPERTY SALES 92 480 7,835
MORTGAGES 115 551 8,785
BUILDING PERMITS 325 1,167 17,068
BANKRUPTCIES 39 311 5,159