Voters, Campaigns Brace for Super Tuesday in Tennessee

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Tennessee’s Republican primary is a little more than a week away, and both voters and some campaigns are still trying to get ready ahead of Super Tuesday. For candidates, that might mean booking an event or two in the Volunteer State on relatively short notice. For voters, it means having to finally make a decision, after watching the race for months.

When it comes to presidential primaries, Tennessee doesn’t usually carry much sway. But of the ten states holding contests on Super Tuesday, it’s third down the list in terms of delegates at stake. And early voting is well underway.

Poll worker: “Which of the primaries would you like to vote in?”
Voter: “Republican.”

In Franklin, a wealthy hotbed for conservative politics and potential donors, you can ask four voters who they’re backing and you might get four different answers.

Santorum, Romney

David Stephenson, who considers himself an independent, sums it up for many:

Stephenson: “I’m voting on the Republican side, but there’s not anybody that I’m real cheerful about.”
Reporter: “Do you mind saying who you ended up voting for?”
Stephenson: “Rick Santorum.”

Santorum topped a poll of likely state Republican voters earlier this month. But he’s had to scramble to establish a presence, opening a couple East Tennessee offices in recent weeks and lining up an appearance tomorrow at a tea party forum in Chattanooga. Mitt Romney’s super PAC has taken notice of Santorum’s rise, and is hitting back with TV ads:

Male narrator: “Who has the right experience? Mitt Romney helped create thousands of jobs.”
Female narrator: “Rick Santorum is called the ultimate Washington insider.”
Male narr: “Romney rescued the Olympics.” …

Romney has laid plenty of groundwork in Tennessee. He smashed competitors in statewide fundraising last year, raising four times more than anyone else. And he secured endorsements from the governor and a slew of GOP lawmakers. Some voters in Franklin called him the “most electable.” But none of that won over Jeff Walker, a self-described Charismatic Christian who backs Santorum, and thinks Romney’s a poseur.

“You can stand up and say ‘I’m a conservative’ – say it 15 times, whatever you want, but it doesn’t make you a conservative. You have to look at somebody’s past and how they voted and how they stood, and I don’t see it.”

Walker says the Massachusetts healthcare law Romney supported is a liability.

Gingrich, Paul

As to the rest of the field, Walker used to like Newt Gingrich, like many here:

Tschida: “You know, I’m sorry he’s not going to win…”

Diane Tschida says outside Gingrich, the other candidates – to use her word – “stink.” But she doubts the former House Speaker’s chances.

Tschida: “…I just don’t feel that he will now.”
Reporter: “Why is that?”
Tschida: “Because I think there was a lot of dirty pool going on. And they did everything they could to discredit him. So I gave him a courtesy vote.”

Gingrich may be down, but he’s not out. He’ll make a stop in Nashville next week at the capitol, ahead of a fundraiser at the home of a GOP activist in Franklin. The invitation asks for a thousand dollar contribution per couple, or $25 hundred for a photo opp.

Stuart Anderson is no stranger to writing four-figure checks to campaigns. But as a “small-government Republican,” the investor is not in love with any of the candidates. So he cast a “protest vote” for long-shot Ron Paul.

“Ron Paul’s for small government, so in order to do anything other than say ‘eeny-meeny-miny-moe,’ I voted my conviction – with the knowledge that Paul isn’t going to be President of the United States, otherwise I wouldn’t have voted for him…”

Anderson’s not the only one to support Paul over the rest of the field, or even to call it a “protest vote” in doing so. But like many others, he says this fall he’ll back whichever candidate the GOP settles on to challenge President Obama.

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