“Super Duper Tuesday” is finally here, and Tennessee voters as well as Americans in at least 20 other states will head to the polls on a day that could decide who will be the next leader of the free world.
In Davidson County, the polls will open at 7 a.m. and remain open until 7 p.m.
Statewide, a record 320,000 Tennesseans voted early. A big turnout today could overtake the state’s record of 830,000 in 1988 when favorite son Al Gore was on the ballot.
“I think we can approach that,” said Brook Thompson, the state’s election coordinator.
While the national polls have Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in a tight race, Clinton leads Obama by 14 to 33 points, depending on which of four polls of likely Democratic voters in Tennessee that have been taken since Wednesday.
Despite the lead, Sen. Thelma Harper (D-Nashville), a Clinton supporter, is not taking anything for granted.
“You’re never comfortable until the polls are closed and the votes are counted,” Harper said.
U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville), an Obama supporter, took issue with the poll numbers, saying internal surveys from the Obama campaign show that the race is within single digits “and closing.”
Cooper said today’s result “all depends on turnout.”
“The Obama campaign has boosted turnout to historic levels,” Cooper said. “People are hungry for change, so every vote will count. So every Tennessean needs to express their opinion.”
On the Republican side, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has led most recent Tennessee polling versus a pair of former governors, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.
A Public Policy Polling survey released Monday had McCain leading Huckabee 34 percent to 28 percent with Romney coming in third with 22 percent. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.9 percent.
A Rasmussen Reports survey released Saturday had McCain leading Romney 32 percent to 29 percent.
Romney remained confidant Monday, swooping into Nashville to eat some pancakes and stump for votes in a “24-hour, nonstop effort” prior to Super Tuesday.
“We’re going to win in Tennessee,” Romney said, saying that recent poll was encouraging because it showed the race narrowing to a two-person contest between he and McCain.
Romney ate breakfast at Pancake Pantry in Hillsboro Village and then pitched reporters on how he would fix a “fundamentally broken” Washington and why McCain (R-Ariz.) is not in the GOP’s mainstream.
To support that argument, Romney listed McCain’s early stance against the Bush tax cuts, support of campaign finance reform legislation and giving “amnesty to illegals.”
“On issue after issue, he is out of the mainstream of the Republican Party,” Romney said of McCain.
Former Congressman and Republican gubernatorial nominee Van Hilleary acknowledges that all of the Republican candidates have some “chink in their conservative armor.”
But Hilleary said McCain is “far and away” the best Republican candidate to defeat Hillary Clinton, who he expects to be the Democrats’ nominee.
“I do believe Sen. McCain, far and away, has the best experience, both life experience and public experience, to be the commander in chief,” Hilleary said in an interview.
One of Hilleary’s conservative colleagues, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood), stood side-by-side with Romney after his Pancake Pantry event.
Blackburn said she supports Romney because he is a “proven reformer” of government and has a strong understanding of issues facing small businesses.
On McCain, Blackburn said that the veteran senator is a “good guy” and that “no one questions” his national security credentials, but that was not enough to back him.
“I just think he is not as conservative as I would like to see our nominee be,” Blackburn said in an interview.
Besides Romney, Huckabee campaigned Monday in Chattanooga as well as in northeast Tennessee.